Among those jazz fans who take a nip of rock & roll from time to time, there may be a secret wish that groups like The Rolling Stones would head for their overdue retirement. That the seventy-three year old Sir Michael Philip "Mick" Jagger and his septuagenarian bandmates have nothing left to prove, is long established. That they become a parody of themselves with nothing left to say is the cringing fear. Defying the odds, the Stones issue what may be their last album, by returning to their roots. Blue & Lonesome could be a homecoming to 1964, but more gritty, and benefitting from a lifestyle that earned the Stones the right to sing the blues.
The Stones spent all of three days in Mark Knopfler's West London recording studio, cranking out an impromptu collection of blues covers. What began as a system's check of an unfamiliar recording setting turned into a concept that had its genesis when Jagger and Keith Richards were working with a lineup that predated drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Ron Wood. The Stones are joined by members of their touring band, bassist Darryl Jones, keyboardists Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford and Eric Clapton appearing on two tracks.
Little Walter's "Just Your Fool" isn't so much a warm-up, as out-of-the-gate crushing chunks of sound and searing harmonica. In contrast, Howlin' Wolf "Commit a Crime" showcases Richards' churning guitar as he and Wood dominate. The title trackalso a Little Walter tuneis considerably quieter, off-setting Jagger's raspy vocal. "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" is the first Clapton appearance, and is a touch too polished in comparison to the overall abrasiveness of the album. Eddie Taylor's "Ride 'Em On Down" moves Jagger to the background for some more guitar pyrotechnics. The album closes with Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby," Clapton returning and Jagger with his most raw and effective vocal.
Produced by Don Was and the Glimmer Twins Blue & Lonesome is more than nod to the Howlin' Wolf era of the Stones. It is Jagger and Richards coming full circle and finishing up legendary careers with the kind of purity that made the Stones the "greatest rock & roll band." Agree with that status or not, it seems clear that this recording, done live in the studio and sans overdubs, it is the most natural and most enjoyable entry that the group has produced in decades. Blue & Lonesome is not just for fans of the Stones but, just as much, for those who appreciate the blues in a grittier, more raucous setting.
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