November 26, 2016

Rolling Stones Reclaim Soul On Blue & Lonesome


The Rolling Stones have just made their best album since 1978’s Some Girls.

Dedicated Stones watchers will read that bold statement as faint praise, given that the band followed their initial 14-year run of thrilling, game-changing albums with another 30 years of increasingly lacklustre ones, but it is a huge achievement nonetheless.

Blue & Lonesome is the first Stones studio album since 2005’s A Bigger Bang and it consists entirely of the kind of Chicago blues songs Mick Jagger and Keith Richards first bonded over during their famous meeting at Dartford railway station on October 17, 1961.

This covers album is less a retrograde step; more a reclaiming of the band’s soul.

It went wrong for the Stones when they started sounding like technology - and trends were leading them rather than the other way round. 

The joy of Blue & Lonesome is the way the band ignores whatever has been going on for the past 50 years. Popular wisdom has it that Keith Richards is the Stones’ bluesy heart and Mick Jagger its red-trousers-wearing fashion victim, but it is Jagger’s voice that brings these songs alive. “Aaaaall your love . . . can it be mine?” he wails against Richards’ fantastically lazy guitar on Magic Sam’s All Of Your Love, and you realise Jagger has a way of inhabiting the blues better than any other white singer, bringing out the sensuality, the amorality, the evil, even.

Jagger’s harmonica is pretty damn fantastic, too. There’s a sustained note towards the end of his rendition of Little Walter’s Hate To See You Go that sounds like a descent into Hell, while he blows through Lightnin’ Slim’s Hoodoo Blues with sustained menace. Jagger’s genius is in doing an imitation of black American music that is thoroughly white and English.


 If Brian Jones had had his way the Stones would have remained blues purists, but Jagger, Richards and Andrew Loog Oldham, then their manager, had other ideas and turned the band into a songwriting machine. Now, years later, Jagger is coming back to the blues with an insouciance that suggests he isn’t going to lose much sleep worrying about what the purists think.

What keeps the Stones a fantastic live act is their looseness. Unlike almost every other stadium act, they play in the moment, missed beats and all, and Blue & Lonesome is similarly imperfect. Charlie Watts’s drumming on Willie Dixon’s Just Like I Treat You is positively unhinged, while Richards turns in some gloriously louche guitar on Jimmy Reed’s Little Rain; twelve-bar blues reduced to a primordial crawl.

It’s not a perfect album, and on the opener, Just Your Fool, the Stones could be any competent blues covers band in any theme bar the world over, but it’s the spirit of Blue & Lonesome that shines through. To hear the Stones go back to the music they love, and to be so confident and unapologetic about it, is a joy.
By Will Hodgkinson

With many thanks to The Australian




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