Does the world actually need another countrified tribute to the Rolling Stones? We’ve already seen 1997’s Stone Country and 2011’s more alt-country focused Paint It Black, not to mention the myriad one-off covers stemming out of Nashville and Texas. (I dare say we mentioned many of them here.) Now we’ve got Stoned Cold Country, and you’re probably thinking you know just what it’s going to sound like. And you’re probably right. So I’ll ask again: Do we need this?
Frankly, the answer is probably immaterial, as I share the view that you can’t have too much of a good thing, even, if, to coin a phrase, you can’t always get what you want. And it’s always good to see some young cubs getting to take a bite at the Jagger-Richards canon. Let’s see if it’s any good.
Stoned Cold Country opens with that promise strongly suggested, Ashley McBryde leaping out the traps like a woman possessed. Little can be done to “Satisfaction” without retaining that iconic riff (unless you’re Cat Power). McBryde keeps it, turning the treble up to 11 rather than keeping the fuzz of the original. That’s good, as is the sheer exuberance of her performance. The rhythm section are spot on; the drums, mixed high, pure Charlie. Some swirling organ adds some southern states sheen, as do some Pentecostal-chapel-grade backing vocals, and there’s just enough twang from the guitar for the song to meet the offered criterion.
Hat act veterans Brooks and Dunn then tackle “Honky Tonk Women.” Cowbell intact, the country up here comes in the near-yodeled vocals and some steel. Pleasant enough, it is a bit karaoke, my ears begging for some (absent) fiddle to be careering around their voices. I can even hear how and where it should fit. Maren Morris, best known on this site as one of the Highwaywomen, restores the positive with a sassy “Dead Flowers.” It is one of Jagger’s more country moments, ersatz or not, so she has a sitting target, but the arrangement is strong and convincing, and her voice a warm rinse that makes for an early high-water mark. Great steel, too.
The opening of “It’s Only Rock and Roll” is stunning, with a slow, stripped-back first verse; it takes until the first chorus to fully realize which song it is. A joint effort between two duos, the Brothers Osborne and The War & Treaty, From the second duo, Michael Trotter takes the first couple of bars before wife Tanya, takes over, and the marriage of his deep drawl and her snarl is wonderful. Sadly, the backing then cranks up into a near-generic bar band rent-a-boogie, and T.J. Osborne chimes in with ill-considered shrieking, The whole is then marred further by brother John and some stadium rawk guitar that seems both out of place and out of kilter. And I thought them a country band, my bad. Let the Trotters out alone, next time.
Jimmie Allan’s “Miss You” seems to offer some swampy blues into the harmonica riff, which appeals, before sliding into a kitschy R’n’B debacle that embarrassed these ears. More karaoke follows, for Elle King’s “Tumbling Dice” adds nothing to the original, some nice organ apart. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is one of the Stone’s dirtiest riffs, all scuzz and scratch, at least on the original iteration. Marcus King tidies it up into a fair facsimile of the Faces covering the Stones, if with his vocals in clear thrall to Jagger, a job to which he isn’t quite up to. It’s OK. Instead of the sax, there is some low-mixed trumpet that is begging for volume, having me wonder if the instrument was deemed, mariachi apart, on the wrong platform for country.
Desperate for some up by this point, I was grateful to hear Little Big Town offer perhaps the most consummate take on “Wild Horses” I have ever encountered. The steel is, shhh, better than Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s in the erstwhile “best version” by the Flying Burrito Brothers. The vocals are glorious, the harmonies better, especially in the four part chorus chorale.
“Paint It Black” starts out equally promisingly, with some sounds of the casbah, middle-Eastern violin that slowly morphs into the attendant melody. Once that is established, the Zac Brown Band fail to little to carry forward that expectation. The hint of a banjo is just too low in the mix, and the temptation to go the full 1001 Nights has clearly been sheared away, give or take the occasional hint. Lainey Wilson’s mellow and, at first, laid-back “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is next, with whining steel and honkytonk piano entering as it lurches into a gospel belter.
Elvie Shane is a name new to me. From the American Idol class of 2016, he seems highly thought of. However, his “Sympathy For the Devil,” sadly, made me wonder whether Beelzebub may feel more pity for him, it largely a lackluster attempt to shoehorn a hoedown into the mix. Call me old. So, thank the Lord for Steve Earle, present and correctly woebegone for a statesmanlike angsty moan through “Angie.” He’s got a superb arrangement that extracts every tear, through the well-worn media of fiddle, steel and piano, picking up and expanding upon the piano parts of the original.
Suitably revived, my hopes were high for Eric Church, charged with “Gimme Shelter.” Frustratingly, the gift horse is in way more need of dental work than he has at his disposal, his vocals lost against those of Joanna Cotton, who blows him out with her somewhat overblown holler. As for the sense of mystery integral to the song, even if sewn into the fabric of Keith Richards guitar part, well, this version loses both any nod to that or to any mystery. It takes “Shine A Light” to prop up the plus votes, Koe Wetzel delivering. A modern outlaw, his ragged voice is just the job for a song that few could spoil. He adds a fair old bit, with a kitchen-sink backing worthy of Delaney and Bonnie’s finest. It allows this patchy project to end, as it began, on a high note.
The whole shebang end was the idea of Nashville producer Robert Deacon, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the band. If a credible and creditable thought, that’s fine, but the result panders far too much to the familiar classics of the earlier years, with “Miss You” from, gulp, 1978 being the most modern selection featured. Have the band done nothing noteworthy since? They’ve got plenty of worthy deeper cuts from the classic years, too – “Doncha Bother Me,” to name just one candidate, would seem ready to take to country like a duck to water. The opportunity to unearth and renew such nuggets surely cries out, with a lesser risk of being outshined by other and more illustrious cover versions. Maybe a Stoned Cold Country Volume Two, Robert, with a bit more courage and a bit more imagination?
Stoned Cold Country has its share of high points, accounting for roughly a half hour of the album. But that leaves a good forty minutes with little of merit. That weighs heavy enough on the rest of the album that it has no chance, no chance. Heartbreaker.
Stoned Cold Country Tracklisting
1. Ashley MacBryde – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
2. Brooks & Dunn – Honky Tonk Women
3. Maren Morris – Dead Flowers
4. Brothers Osborne and The War and Treaty – It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)
5. Jimmie Allan – Miss You
6. Elle King – Tumbling Dice
7. Marcus King – Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
8. Little Big Town – Wild Horses
9. Zac Brown Band – Paint It Black
10. Lainey Wilson – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
11. Elvie Shane – Sympathy for the Devil
12. Steve Earle – Angie
13. Eric Church – Gimme Shelter
14. Koe Wetzel – Shine A Light