A man who needs no introduction, Keith Richards lets listeners and long- time fans behind his image to reveal his deepest and strongest work in years on his third solo album, Cross-Eyed Heart.
The album features the dark and joyous sheen that has been missing from Rolling Stones’ recordings since Tattoo You.
Besides being a durable, lovable rogue whose name and image have been held up like a crucifix against the establishment for decades, Richards is a traditionalist at heart.
Witness his reading of Goodnight Irene – it captures a plaintive sound that Richards hasn’t visited since his solo Stones’ vocal on You Got the Silver.
Cross-Eyed Heart is a roots album. As a guitar player, Richards hasn’t suffered the fate of unfashionable excess or pseudo virtuosity that some of his peers have fallen victim to. It’s because Richards never surrendered to flash or self indulgence (musical, that is!), instead opting to milk the essence of early rock and roll and its blues and folk music predecessors.
The mood of the album is the result of a relaxed working environment laid out by drummer/producer Steve Jordan, co-guitarist Waddy Wachtel, and keyboardist Ivan Neville. The result is an album more entertaining and warm than any recent Stones’ album.
Illusion, a duet co-written with Norah Jones, has the deep mood of mid-period Stones’ gems like Heaven. It gives an indication that “Keef’s” long suspected sensitive side is stronger than ever.
Amnesia, a primer in tasteful guitar rhythms, also bears this out. The album’s first single, Trouble, is a cool and fetching song that bears the heartfelt stamp of Richards’ rough soul but is less compelling than the rest of this long player record. Likewise, with the lukewarm reggae cover Love Overdue, a song best edited out of the track listing. It’s not bad; it’s just that it doesn’t hold up to the rest of the material.
It is surprising how thoughtful and fun Cross-Eyed Heart is. It presents Richards as a gracefully aged (if rough hewn) musician who uses songs as springboards for moods and easy going inspiration. Willie Nelson is similar.
This is a logical extension for Richards’ role as a gatekeeper for early rock and roll forms. While many of his peers headed for the outer limits of rock, Richards laid down primal songs like Satisfaction, Gimme Shelter and“Happy, amongst many others. Cross-Eyed Heart doesn’t have the power of those songs but there’s a spontaneity here that’s missing in contemporary releases.
It’s Richards’ best solo album and it reflects the man’s inspirations, giving a candid glimpse of the person behind the image. Its devil-may-care spirit burns bright.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician who reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star every Friday.