A review of The Stones’ excellent new blues album, from The Guardian. Written by Alexis Petridis, dated Nov. 24th, 2016…
More Alive Than They’ve Sounded for Years
Mick Jagger’s voice and harmonica drive an album of blues covers that returns the Stones to their roots.
Last week, a US journalist interviewing the Rolling Stones offered up a 21st-century spin on the old ‘Can white men sing the blues?’ argument. Wasn’t the Stones’ early repertoire, heavy on the songs of Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters et al, just an example of cultural appropriation, he asked? You might charitably describe Keith Richards’ response as a little confused. At one juncture, he appeared to suggest that the blues was actually “quite Jewish,” but the bulk of the answer consisted of Richards insisting that he was, in fact, black: “Ask any of the brothers.”
Tireless on your behalf, I’ve researched this thoroughly and can exclusively reveal that he isn’t. But equally, the charge of cultural appropriation feels deeply unfair. The biggest band of the British blues boom were always among the loudest cheerleaders for the real deal. They never pulled the grim Led Zeppelin trick of claiming they’d written songs they’d clearly swiped from old blues artists, never missed an opportunity to take BB King on tour or to try to educate their audience about the artists they were paying homage to. “I think it’s about time you shut up and we had Howlin’ Wolf on stage,” suggested Brian Jones to the presenter of U.S. TV show Shindig! in 1965, after the Stones had agreed to appear only if the show also booked Wolf and Son House, a ballsy move in a country where the Voting Rights Act hadn’t yet been passed.
The issue is being raised again because, for the first time in their career, the Rolling Stones have elected to release an album consisting entirely of blues covers. A skeptical voice might suggest it finally confirms what their last album, 2005’s lacklustre A Bigger Bang strongly hinted at: that, as songwriters at least, the Jagger/Richards partnership is out of juice. A less cynical observer’s first thought might be to wonder why they didn’t do something like this sooner: the opening cover of Buddy Johnson’s “I’m Just Your Fool” comes barreling out of the speakers, sounding more raw and vibrant than the Stones have done in years.
Their second thought might be that Blue & Lonesome sounds surprisingly like Mick Jagger’s show, which rather goes against the commonly held belief that Keith Richards is the band’s R&B heart and Jagger is a fashion-conscious dilettante who’d have the Stones recording tropical house with Kungs and Seeb if he thought it would make them seem relevant. You can see how that notion came about, but while there are fantastic contributions from Richards and Ronnie Wood – the grumbling twin guitars of “Little Rain”; the taut interplay that powers “Hate to See You Go”; and, especially, the woozy, chaotic backdrop they conjure on a version of Lightning Slim’s “Hoo Doo Blues” – it’s Jagger’s voice and harmonica that really drive Blue & Lonesome. At his least inspired, Jagger can sound like a man who isn’t singing so much as rearranging a well-worn series of mannerisms and tics, but here his vocals are extremely powerful and genuinely affecting, as if he’s digging deep within himself to find the emotions to fit the material. You expect him to be able to summon up the kind of swaggering lubriciousness requisite for “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing,” originally recorded by Little Johnny Taylor, which he does; more surprising is how authentically wracked he sounds on “All Your Love,” “Hate to See You Go” and the Memphis Slim-penned title track. There’s a really striking moment on the last one where he sings the line “Baby please come on home to me,” drawing out the word “please” into a chilling, agonised, vulnerable howl.
Moreover, you wonder if Jagger’s fashion-conscious dilettantism might account for the album’s sound: Blue & Lonesome feels very much a record piloted by someone who’s heard the White Stripes or the Black Keys, or the raw blues releases on which Mississippi label Fat Possum’s reputation was founded. The sound is appealingly visceral and live: the guitars are spiky and slashing, the drums punch hard, everything – including Jagger’s voice – is coated with a thin, crisp layer of distortion, as if the band are playing at such volume and with such force that the microphones can’t quite take it.
The obvious point of comparison would be the recordings the Stones made in the brief period between their rise to fame and the full flowering of Jagger and Richards’ songwriting. But if at least one track, a version of Willie Dixon’s “Just Like I Treat You,” might have slotted neatly onto 5 x 5 or The Rolling Stones No. 2, for the most part Blue & Lonesome doesn’t really feel or sound much like the stuff the Stones made half a century ago. They wouldn’t have thanked you for saying it, but back then, their skill lay in a perhaps unwitting ability to transform gnarled rhythm and blues into thrilling teen-friendly pop: listen to Muddy Waters’ original version of “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” next to their 1964 version and you hear a very grownup, slow-burning record, made by a man already in middle age, converted into something urgent and wired, the soundtrack to an overexcited fumble in the back of a Ford Anglia.
Now in their 70s, men who by anyone’s standards have lived a bit, they frequently seem to tap into something deeper about the music: they really inhabit its sense of hard-won experience. The last thing you hear on the album, after a version of Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” crashes to a halt, is Mick Jagger asking uncertainly “was that OK?” He sounds like a man who’s still slightly awed by this music in its original form; who knows he’s still paying homage to artists he can never entirely grasp, whatever Keith Richards thinks. But the answer to his question is an unqualified yes: it’s more than OK, which is not something you can say about many Stones albums over the last 30 years.
This review of Keef’s first new solo album in 23 years comes from Paste, written by Holly Gleason, Sept. 15, 2015…
As rock’s enduring pirate, Keith Richards embodies swagger, sangfroid and a certain delicious naughtiness. More than the Stones themselves, the guitarist exudes a dirt ’n’ salt earthiness that’s equal parts Rastafarian, broke-down cowboy and seen-it-all gypsy globetrotter.
On “Trouble,” the most post-modern Stones-evoking track on Crosseyed Heart, his voice is all worn rope and spark. The guitars tumble and swoop as co-producer/drummer Steve Jordan presses the beat with an urgency, Richards laughingly croaking “Maybe trouble is your middle name…”
For surface fans, the check is covered.
But the more eclectic material is where Richards’ wit and grit emerge. With the unfinished acoustic “Crosseyed Heart,” about loving two women, disintegrating into the frank admission, “That’s all I got,” Richards lets it all hang out.
There’s “Nothing on Me,” the low-slung blues shuffle of getting busted and getting out of it; a horn-flecked reggae undulation, “Love Overdue”; and the “Wild Horses”-evoking “Robbed Blind” basted in steel guitar—a tale of misadventure, a dusty half-spoken vocal, a plucked gut string guitar and an evocation of Gram Parsons’ finest hardcore country.
After random spoken riffing, “Amnesia” finds Richards sinking into the pulsing groove of the corner-of-mouth muttered mid-tempo. Fallout from being conked on the head (coconut tree, anyone?), its snarl suggests far darker pursuits. That misdirection to danger fuels his song and feeds his hungers.
“She’s a vegetarian, and me, I like my meat,” Richards enthuses in the “opposites attract” rocker d’amour “Heartstopper.” Waddy Wachtel’s electric guitar sweeps down, strangles the frenzy and drives it higher—like the great late mid-career Stones moments—but Richards’ snaggle-toothed confession of lust-fueled magnetism brings it home.
If “Something for Nothing” seems expected, the halting “Just a Gift,” all midnight and gravelly offer, has that gentleman rogue tinge that’s made Richards the most alluring of all rock stars. The smoldering, world-weary knowledge and always tender soul beneath the leathery exterior beckon.
Followed by a drawn-out “Good Night Irene,” delivered like the dissolute’s “Amazing Grace,” Crosseyed Heart is a hymnal for rascals, reprobates and ne’er-do-wells with hearts of gold—or at least kindness. Honor among thieves, love amongst scoundrels… Keith Richards has carved an encompassing survey of his own spirit and set it to a vast set of influences for all to see.
A Nov. 23rd review of the recent reissue of Some Girls — taken from the PopMatters website and written by Matthew Fiander…
If Some Girls isn’t the best Rolling Stones album—and sure, it’s not—it’s surely the most fascinating in terms of the band’s history and development. It came out in 1978 and was the band’s response to the punk-rock movement that had risen up and railed against the bloat of rock institutions, which by the late ‘70s the Stones had been included in. So Jagger and company took dead aim at the youngsters, even incorporating that loathsome antithesis to punk rock—disco music—into their sound and making it their own.
This going up against the new guard was, for the Stones, both understandable and not. They were, without a doubt, an inspiration to many punk rock bands just like the Beatles were, even if it wasn’t punk to admit it in 1978. So in some ways, the Rolling Stones deciding to “respond” on their new record was little more than posturing. In another way, though, the Stones weren’t exactly responding as a representation of the rock tradition—they weren’t just leaders of the old guard lashing out. Their need to respond was probably a bit more pointed than that, seeing as they were dealing with their own, personal backlash in the mid-‘70s.
Which isn’t to say their albums weren’t well received, or that they didn’t sell a lot of records, but critics—Lester Bangs chief among them—and fans were starting to view the band as safe, comfortable, happy to slouch on the rock throne and give us middle of the road chuggers. After 1972’s Exile on Main Street, the band returned with the more consolidated funk and blues of Goat’s Head Soup. The record has aged well, and showed the band capable of a more nuanced energy, but it also paved the way for 1974’s It’s Only Rock and Roll Read the rest of this entry »
Another July 1972 Newsday article on The Rolling Stones by esteemed critic Robert Christgau…
The difference between the Rolling Stones who played this country in 1969 and the Rolling Stones who climaxed their 1972 American tour with four sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden is the difference between a group and a band. The distinction is subtle, and sometimes unnecessary, but crucial. The Stones of the sixties were not only coherent as a unit; despite a great deal of surface evolution, they were also deliberately static. Instead of dealing with the paradoxes of real life in their time, they chose to defy them — nothing less, nothing more. In a way, Brian Jones epitomized this choice by his knack for melding esoteric musical modes into the old context. Read the rest of this entry »
This May 25, 2010 article comes from The Atlantic. I don’t believe, myself, that The Stones “died” after this album, though I do believe it was their crowning achievement…
“Rocks Off,” the first track of the Rolling Stones’s Exile on Main Street, opens with a scratchy Keith Richards Telecaster riff punctuated by a single Charlie Watts snare hit. Mick Jagger lasciviously intones an “oh yeah,” pitched perfectly between earnestness and irony. This sequence lasts all of five seconds, but you’d be hard-pressed to find five seconds that better articulate the brilliance of the Rolling Stones, much in the way that Exile, the band’s 1972 shambling sprawl of a double-album that has recently enjoyed a re-ssue, perfectly captures a too-brief period during which Rolling Stones Read the rest of this entry »