Tribute albums often sound more like compilations than unified albums. The usual mold of gathering together an eclectic group of artists to either produce their own covers of an artist or play together can make for interesting listening, but results in a rather disjointed affair. Even with a single artist bringing in “special guests” – a standard practice for these sorts of endeavors – the preponderance of different voices can struggle to create a cohesive sound. Ben Waters manages to completely avoid this trap on his new album Boogie 4 Stu: A Tribute To Ian Stewart.
Stewart, often referred to as the “Sixth Stone,” mastered boogie-woogie piano and helped to form The Rolling Stones in 1962. Unfortunately, he did not fit the image created for the band by early manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who demoted Stewart to road manager. Undeterred, he served the band faithfully until his death in 1985, occasionally contributing piano at Stones sessions and playing with Howlin’ Wolf, Led Zeppelin and Pete Townshend on the side. For the present tribute, boogie-woogie piano maestro Waters assembled a group of Stewart’s friends to record an album of the music Stewart loved.
Waters wastes no time on subtle introduction, ripping into Albert Ammons’ “Boogie Woogie Stomp,” and demonstrating how a solo piano can rock just as hard as a whole band. Keeping that famous rolling beat with his left hand (a remarkably fast version of the blues shuffle), his fingers dance deftly all over the keyboard, sounding simultaneously light and driving. Much of the rest of the album features a band so tight you’d think they’ve been playing together for years, including Stones drummer Charlie Watts on most tracks. Just listen to the band back the dueling pianos of Waters and Jools Holland on the instrumental “Boogie for Stu.” Joined by a smoking horn section, each instrumentalist demonstrates their individual skill without falling into the all-star combo trap of trying to one-up each other.
The performances of the members of the Stones are worthy of special note. Watts really spreads his wings, showing chops that under the circumstances we’re more familiar with he keeps under wraps. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood add sensitive, yet grizzled vocals to the slow country blues of “Worried Life Blues.” And on the album highlight, “Watching The River Flow”, Mick Jagger sounds not a day older than 30 while tackling the vocal on the Bob Dylan classic.
Overall, Waters has assembled an album that sounds cohesive despite the number of different individuals involved, in part due to his fabulous production. Assisted by the legendary Glyn Johns in the mixing process, the record features a rich, full sonic palate – avoiding the sterile, clinical feel that so many modern recordings of an older style of music have. The only track that sounds out of place features Waters’ cousin PJ Harvey on vocals, a rather odd and murky take on Ray Charles’ “Lonely Avenue.” In the end the album makes for the perfect companion to kick off a rocking Saturday night.
Boogie 4 Stu: A Tribute To Ian Stewart Tracklist:
01. Boogie Woogie Stomp
02. Rooming House Boogie
03. Worried Life Blues (Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, vocals)
04. Boogie For Stu
05. Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor (Jools Holland, vocals)
06. Midnight Blues
07. Lonely Avenue (PJ Harvey, vocals)
08. Watching The River Flow (Mick Jagger, vocals)
09. Roll ‘Em Pete (Hamish Maxwell, vocals)
10. Suitcase Blues
11. Bring It On Home To Me (Ian Stewart with Rocket 88, live from Montreaux Jazz Festival, 1982)
Check out more Ben Waters on his website.