On The Rolling Stones new album, Blue and Lonesome, there’s no anthems, ballads or radio hits but there are a whole lotta jams and blues done Chicago-land style. They shed the years as they blow through a raw set of blues covers.
Mick Jagger once sang, “It’s the singer, not the song” and that holds true here. Blue and Lonesome sounds like the music that the Stones cut their teeth on and the restraint that the band brings to the material sets it afire.
Jagger’s vocal commands attention with his casual asides and timing that bring out the magic in the arrangements.
All of Your Love is Jagger in his element, prowling the edges of song like a lynx, all coiled energy held in check to hit the notes that count. I Gotta Go showcases his harp playing, a hidden talent that gets overshadowed by his image and flamboyance.
When The Stones strip it all back and rock out like they used to do in 1962, as they do here, there are few that get the subtlety of electric blues playing in a band context like they do.
The late Brian Jones’ presence is felt throughout Blue and Lonesome as this is a real throwback album for the band, taking them back to their days covering songs by Jimmy Reed, Howling Wolf and Willie Dixon.
The standout track here is the smouldering, I Can’t Quit You Baby. Jagger shrieks and guest Eric Clapton wails.
The Stones’ tight, but loose sound gave them an edge on playing urban blues and they celebrate that here.
The secret weapon is drummer Charlie Watts’ rock steady beat which is the key to the group’s seeming nonchalance.
He and guitarist Keith Richards work the groove back and forth like a relay team. It’s plain to hear why Richards references him so often – the guy is a rock who allows Keef to work his skronky magic over top, providing the trademark Stones swing.
–Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases in his column, Street Sounds, every Friday.