In the beginning, for me, it was The Rolling Stones. As a kid, I only turned on the radio to listen to sports, most likely the Royals game while I was trying to go to sleep. It was my brother who had the stereo and all those odd albums with the strange, colorful covers. Then I heard the song, “Miss You,” and shortly after that “Beast of Burden.” That music hit me in the lower brain stem. I immediately went out and bought the LP “Some Girls,” the first album I ever bought with my own money. In many ways that album changed my life forever… I’ve been looking for that same “Some Girls” high every time I drop the needle on the vinyl. I then made a cassette recording of my brother’s double album, “Hot Rocks,” the Stones iconic greatest hits album. I wore that damn thing out. Suddenly I was saving up money for one of those cheap, turntable/receiver/cassette players all in one stereo unit.
In the beginning, for the Stones, it was the blues. Thank God, it was the blues. Everything I’ve ever liked is based on the blues and I think that’s probably because the Stones were my “first.” Their early albums were essentially blues cover albums. “England’s Newest Hitmakers” and especially “12×5” are two of the greatest blues/blues rock albums ever recorded. They were full of young man bluster back in those days. Now, with the release of the amazing new “Blue And Lonesome” it seems that the Stones have come full circle. They’ve returned home, they’ve returned to their roots, the blues. In many ways it was the Stones who turned America back onto the blues. They shined a light on this “black” music and suddenly white audiences rediscovered the blues. Keith says shining the light back on the blues may be the only thing that gets him into heaven… good luck with that Keith.
Much has been written about the creative conflict between Keith, the blues/rock traditionalist and Jagger, who has always had an eye on what’s current. That push and pull, with Keith looking backward and Mick looking forward is what a lot of the experts think has fueled the Stones creative process over the years. In light of that, it’s easy to think of this as a “Keith album.” And, it was Keith who suggested they try the Little Walter tune, “Blue And Lonesome” in order to get comfortable in the new studio they were recording a new album in last December.
However, I would beg to differ with the idea that this is a more Keith-centric record. People forget that while Mick likes to stay current, he’s always kept an eye on the blues. As late as 1993 he holed up in L.A. with a local blues band, The Red Devils, and recorded an album of blues songs, which sadly remains unreleased to this day, except for 1 track on Mick’s solo “Charmed Life” collection. I found a great live set of Mick doing blues tunes at the Mustique Blues Festival with his back up band. Yes, he’s always looked forward, but Mick is still firmly rooted in the blues. At the Stones 50th Anniversary show I saw in New Jersey, Mick brought the Black Keys and Gary Clark on stage to do Freddy King’s “Goin’ Down.” Mick’s blues cred is pretty solid with me. I would argue, with all their personal issues (the biggest being Keith’s stupid comments about Mick in his autobiography) the one thing that holds these guys together is the blues. It’s their common vernacular.
The Stones never completely abandoned the blues. I can remember the first time I heard “Down In A Hole” from the “Emotional Rescue” album. That’s a great blues song. “Black Limousine” from Tattoo You and “Back of My Hand” from their last studio album, “A Bigger Bang” are great, later period blues tunes from the Stones. Every Stones album has a great blues tune hidden in their somewhere. Each live album they did seemed to have a blistering blues cover on it. They never really left the blues, however far they roamed musically.
“Blue And Lonesome” does bring the Stones full circle but these aren’t the same young men who recorded the blues over fifty years ago. These guys now sound like Muddy when he did “Hard Again,” elder statesmen who have grown into these songs. While I can certainly picture Keith sitting with his guitar on a chair near Charlie’s drum kit with a shit-eating grin on his face while they recorded this album, this is the Mick Jagger show. His vocals are so committed, he’s feeling these tunes. There’s zero affect in his voice. His enthusiasm was clearly infectious within the band. Mick Jagger is the greatest harmonica player in rock and roll and he proves it on this album. It had to be a very conscious decision of Keith’s to lead Mick to the songs of Little Walter (three of which are recorded here), the blues’ greatest harmonica player, to get this thing jump started. It was an inspired choice. The harmonica drives a lot of these tunes. I was frankly blown away by Mick’s playing, it’s simply put, out of this world. Even the Rock Chick came in and said, “This sounds great, Mick is an amazing harp player…” which was a surprise as I’ve never heard the Rock Chick use the term “harp” to describe a harmonica. That woman is like an onion… so many layers.
The sound of this album grabbed me right away. These are loud, dirty blues. The music explodes out of the speaker with a strength and force that surprised me. The album has the sound of a late night blues club, in a shack on the outskirts of town, near the crossroads. I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly pay the cover charge to get in. It sounds like a party and the Stones are having a blast. Mick’s vocals and harmonica are right out front in the mix. The rest of the band just sort of rides behind him in the pocket. The playing is right in the groove. There is some great guitar playing, but again it takes a back seat, it’s more of a compliment to the songs. Eric Clapton plays on two tracks, and his best solo is probably on “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing.” I would say that Ronnie Wood matches the heights of Clapton’s solo on the title track, his playing is just great. The vocal from Jagger on “All Of Your Love” starts off as a visceral howl. It’s his most impassioned vocal here. I can never say enough about the fabulous drumming of Charlie Watts, he’s definitely the engine. I love the fact that they didn’t select well known tunes, they went deep into the blues catalog. Only a band like the Stones, with their knowledge of the form, could put together a song list like this. I love the version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit a Crime.” Many folks think the blues are all slow tunes, but a lot of these tunes are upbeat “jump blues” kind of tracks like “Ride Em On Down.”
This is a great, great album. It seems the Stones now only put out one album per decade so this is a big fucking deal. I’m hopeful they continue working on that new album they were recording when this creative blues super nova burst. Now that they’ve gone back to their early days, playing the blues, maybe they’ll revisit their dirty rock 70’s period. “A Bigger Bang” was such a great late-period album from the Stones I was hopeful we’d see a return of them releasing albums more frequently. Of course that was 11 years ago. Even if they don’t finish the new batch of tracks for an all-new album, I’m pretty happy to have “Blue And Lonesome.”
Put this one on loud, pour a Blanton’s bourbon over some ice cubes and dance around… I guarantee clothes will start coming off. “Blue And Lonesome” gets BourbonAndVinyl’s strongest recommendation! Enjoy!