If one could go back through time and meet a young Keith Richards, and tell him that the band he was in would become the greatest and most celebrated rock and roll groups in the world, and forge a career that would last some fifty years or more, I’m sure that his reaction would’ve been one of total disbelief. Because as Keith spoke about in his autobiography Life, when The Rolling Stones were starting out, getting paid to perform was one thing; but being asked to sign a recording contract was something else entirely. To go from stealing milk bottles to selling millions of records and touring the world must have seemed like a miracle in itself. And speaking of miracles, that Richards is still on this earth instead of under it, is nothing short of astonishing. And on his third solo album, Crosseyed Heart, he proves that some old dogs may not need to learn new tricks simply because they don’t have to.
The title track is all loose and sloppy, though has a soul to it sorely lacking in much of the music being made today by people who are less than a quarter of Richards’ age. Here it’s as if he’s reaching out to the ghosts of his past; Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon etc. It’s just Keith on acoustic guitar, whose voice is as well worn and ragged as an old pair of undies that haven’t been washed for over twenty years.
On “Heartstopper” Richards defies his birth date both in voice and performance. And while you know it’s not a great song, one enjoys it all the same, since it’s all about personality at the end of the day. “Amnesia” is another riff-rocker where surprisingly Richards is in fine form throughout, and sounding better than ever. “Robbed Blind” sees Keith revisit his country-rock roots and good friend Gram Parsons. Now I doubt that Richards would ever be busted for drug possession nowadays, yet when he sings “Now the stash no longer matters and he ain’t hard to find/Cause it ain’t the money, honey, but the heart you stole was mine” has ol’ Keef in vulnerable mode which might seem unusual now that he’s a septuagenarian. “Trouble” harkens back to his early Stones days with Mick Taylor.
Keith’s love of reggae goes back a long way, more than forty years in fact, although God knows why. Perhaps it was all that endless leaf and laidback lifestyle that appealed to him. “Love Overdue” is an inoffensive ditty, though I’m the last person you would want to champion its virtues. “Nothing On Me” and “Suspicious” are both Keef by numbers, no matter how heartfelt. Not so “Blues in the Morning”, which is an enjoyable romp and the sort of recording The Stones should be doing today though probably won’t. The late Bobby Keys can be heard belting it out on saxophone, along with Richards’ band The X-Pensive Winos, who played with him on his first two solo efforts.
The riffs continue with “Something For Nothing”, followed by “Illusion”, which contains some fine guitar playing as well as a duet between Nora Jones and the man himself. Richards gets all sentimental on “Just A Gift”, and even drops his hat to Jerry Lee Lewis and Leadbelly on the splendidly shagged out “Goodnight Irene”. Keith is clearly in his element with “Substantial Damage”, a seductive and funky jam, while on “Lover’s Plea” Richards is obviously getting a bit thoughtful in his old age. And who can blame him.
Crosseyed Heart may not have the fire and fury of some of his best solo work as heard on Talk Is Cheap and Main Offender, yet as long as he continues to play and enjoys what he does, that’s all that matters. Keith Richards has obviously cheated life and beat the Devil on more than a few occasions, something for which I’m sure he is well aware of. This is a record full of heart and labour, put together by someone who has certainly paid his dues. And although it may be rickety, like the old house your grandparents used to live in, you can bet that it will outlast the majority of today’s modern artists, whether for better or worse. I can only hope that he is able to persist.