I can’t believe you won’t have already read or heard at least a hundred reviews of Blue & Lonesome, an 11th-hour reprieve for the best rock and roll band in the world, burning up column inches and airspace across the world. And all so uniformly and fawningly good, too. Where are the naysayers? Well, not here, I fear, for this is the real deal.
It’s true, from when it was first announced, I so wanted and wished it to be good, because I am a Rolling Stones fan, even (well, mostly) through the years of drought. Then, as the promo reviews were released, I faltered – could it really be so? Yesterday morning it arrived on my doormat and my anticipations soared. First track in, “Just Your Fool,” and I knew it. The Stones have cracked it. Combined age et cetera et cetera, laughter lines and all, bang bang bang, easy, job done.
Now don’t go looking for rock and roll: this isn’t. And don’t expect some late ’60s blues boom slickness. This is way too unpolished for that, evoking far more their heroes Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters: rough, ready, raw, vibrant. Grown men plying their trade. Possibly a bit basic for refined 21st c. tastes, but listen between the lines. Jagger’s harp reminding us that it’s actually he who’s arguably the musical talent in the band. Richards and Wood weaving their slo-mo magic behind the beat, or, actually, a step ahead, in true Stones fashion. Watts keeping his eye on Keef, his drumming quite bonkers at times. I can imagine him grinning broadly, wondering quite what this shit is, and getting gloriously carried away. At times they evoke a slowed-down Allmans, particularly on the title track, that meant in a good way, reminding us also that Wood was once deemed quite an exponent on slide, thinking back to the Faces.
OK, in truth, there are moments where Blue & Lonesome plods, particularly tracks 9 and 10, Jagger slipping into a reprise of his “Little Red Rooster” vocal style. In an adjunct to Richards’ recent wide-reported claim, even the brothers know Mick Jagger ain’t black. But it lifts again in time for Eric Clapton’s 2nd appearance, on the album closer “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” I don’t know whether it was luck or judgement that found ol’ Slowhand just happening to be recording next door, but it will have given him as little harm as the whole process has his hosts, his guitar both fluid and fitting in the two songs where it’s deployed.
Why were these songs chosen? All the reports would seem to suggest exactly as the record seemingly evolved, by accident, playing familiar songs to warm up their licks, then, from the pleasure of playing them, realizing perhaps there was something there. Or maybe more than the yet unformed and unfinished songs they were officially grouping up together to hone. It’s a great story, regardless, and to take 3 days to complete suggests a certain core familiarity with both the style and the content. I would be first to say I was earlier unfamiliar with the works of Little Walter, who has 4 songs here, but, in the same way as I had been back to revisit Wolf and Waters in preparation, now I will be going back to find out more, and I suspect I won’t be alone in doing so.
There have been those musing as to how Brian Jones, or Mick Taylor perhaps even more so, might have taken to this exercise. Personally it is another Taylor, almost in the Stones before they were Rolling, that I find myself thinking of. Because rather than any earlier Stones record, it is the work of Dick Taylor’s later (and current) band, the Pretty Things, that I compare Blue & Lonesome to, particularly their eponymous 1964 EP featuring both “Rosalyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” both memorably covered by David Bowie on Pin-Ups. The other person I find my thoughts on is Ian Stewart, Stu, lantern-jawed pianist from the start, deemed insufficiently to be photogenic enough for the full band, yet sufficient a force for Keith Richards to still call the Stones Stu’s band, even decades after his death. I think he would feel his boys done good. I know I do.
Blue & Lonesome track listing:
- Just Your Fool (Little Walter cover)
- Commit a Crime (Howlin’ Wolf cover)
- Blue and Lonesome (Little Walter cover)
- All of Your Love (Magic Sam cover)
- I Gotta Go (Little Walter cover)
- Everybody Knows About My Good Thing (Little Johnny Taylor cover)
- Ride ‘Em on Down (Eddie Taylor cover)
- Hate to See You Go (Little Walter cover)
- Hoo Doo Blues (Lightnin’ Slim cover)
- Little Rain (Jimmy Reed cover)
- Just Like I Treat You (Howlin’ Wolf cover)
- I Can’t Quit You Baby (Otis Rush cover)
Blue & Lonesome is available from Amazon.