Septuagenarians still prove that they’ve got the blues
The Rolling Stones are like the Stone Henge of rock ‘n’ roll: iconic, ancient and indestructible. With Keith Richards having just turned the tender age of 73, and Mick Jagger fathering his eighth child (also 73, to a woman less than half his age), one has to wonder at what point will the band begin to slow down. The answer to that question is not any time soon it seems, based on their latest release, Blue & Lonesome, the group’s 23rd studio album, and one which happens to be their finest in many a year.
Recorded over three days at British Grove Studios in London, December 2015, as the title suggests, Blue & Lonesome is the Stones’ first ever album devoted solely to the blues, and it’s about time too.
“Just Your Fool” makes for a fine entry point, an obscure tune written by Buddy Johnson, which reveals just how deep the Glimmer Twins’ river runs when it comes to the Mississippi Delta. Richards and Wood’s guitars interlock telepathically, while Jagger plays a menacing harmonica. Not since Exile has the Stones sounded so down to earth and gritty, as they also do on a superb version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit A Crime,” followed by a dirty version of Little Walter’s “Blue And Lonesome.”
The Stones are in their element during the smoky late night “All Of Your Love,” before taking off with an energetic “I Gotta Go,” on which they play and sound like they’re all still in their 20’s. Eric Clapton contributes slide guitar on “Everybody Knows About My Thing,” someone who obviously knows a thing or two about the blues, adding a certain gravitas in the process. “Ride ‘Em On Down” is the sort of song they were no doubt born to play, with its shuffling Chicago blues beat and wailing harmonica.
Better still is their cover of Little Walter’s “Hate To See You Go,” a harmonica and guitar driven number that travels its way from London via Rosedale. Jagger gets his Mojo working (as if he ever lost it) on the low-down “Hoo Doo Blues,” while Richards anchors the groove thanks to some antediluvian riffs. The languid “Little Rain” shows how far the Stones have come in terms of their ability to master the music they so much admired when as teenagers, cutting each track with the experience it deserves.
Willie Dixon’s “Just Like I Treat You” gets the full Chess Studios treatment circa the late ‘50s, then a fine “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” another Dixon composition, throughout which Clapton bends his strings in a way not heard since his days with John Mayall, behind Jagger’s age-defying voice, like a white Muddy Waters in full flow. Because in order to play this sort of music, it obviously takes a lot of years and a lot of booze, something which here The Stones pull off with aplomb.
Behind the glossy album cover, this is the Stones at their best. That it has taken this long for them to record an LP of blues covers is perhaps not surprising, considering Jagger’s penchant for slick production and pretending to be eighteen, even when he was in his 60’s. However it’s not as if The Stones are exactly strangers when it comes to their favourite art form, since it was the blues which formed the backbone of everything that was great about the Stones in the first place. Blue & Lonesome goes a long way in reinforcing that fact. Brian Jones would surely be proud.