December 5, 2016 6:53:52 pm
“Are they still around?”
That’s inevitably the first question that gets asked when you mention The Rolling Stones. One of rock’s greatest acts seems to have been around forever and been breaking up for just as long, with battles and wars as iconic as some of the music they have produced. Well, Sir Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Co. might be well south of seventy and their differences might be the stuff of long-running soap operas (sex, drugs and of course, rock and roll and all), but they are still alive and kicking.
Or well, perhaps not kicking as hard as they usually do.
The group’s latest album, Blue & Lonesome, hit the airwaves and download zones a few days ago. It is their first studio album since 2005, and the first one that is made completely of cover versions. No, don’t get your hopes too high about getting fresh material here. For in Blue & Lonesome, Uncle Mick and his banderilleros (much though Richards will hate that remark) prefer to go over old ground then cover (pun intended) fresh one. There are a dozen blues numbers here, and the entire album spans a touch over forty minutes. Oh and Jagger does not touch the guitar at all, sticking to the vocals and harmonica, while Richards decides to literally let his guitar do the talking (no vocals from him).
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And surprisingly, it all works. I must confess I felt a twinge of discomfort when Just Your Fool got the album underway with its harmonica drove intro, but once Jagger swings into the vocals, you know that you are on familiar ground. No, the strut that defines most of the Stones’ work is not here – blues are meant to be played and heard (perhaps with a slightly heavy heart) – but the Stones show they are as adept at handling blues as they are at classic rock. Jagger does the “repeat the same line with a different tone” routine that is the blues’ hallmark with elan, and the guitaring from Richards (and on two numbers by no less than Eric Clapton – yes, God himself, all rise!) is brilliant. Do not expect a storm of percussion or music you can shake a leg to (although the really determined dancers can do the latter on the slightly folksy Hate to See You Go and the uptempo I Gotta Go and Just Like I Treat You), but just sit back and soak the defiant melancholy of numbers like Commit a Crime, I Can’t Quit You Baby and of course, my own personal favourite, the hauntingly quiet Little Rain, which has hardly any percussion, but is mainly about the Jagger voice and harmonica.
All of which makes Blue & Lonesome a classic slice from the past served up by a band that is a classic in its own right. Those who have started listening to the Stones in the nineties and eighties might find it a tad too tame and lacking the stadium rock crescendo that some of their work in that period contained. But older fans will nod their head and sigh in relief.
They might be singing classic blues rather than composing fresh material. But The Rolling Stones are still awesome.
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