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Rolling Stones: Hackney Diamonds (2CD)

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Rolling Stones: Hackney Diamonds (2CD)
The Rolling Stones have taken some risks of greater and lesser proportion over the course of their sixty-plus- year career, but perhaps no gamble is so great as the decision by the surviving members of the band to continue on after the passing of drummer Charlie Watts.

With the blessing of their co-founder in place for the presence of musician/producer Steve Jordan at the kit, the self-appointed 'greatest rock and roll band in the world' carried on with its tour plans in 2023 in the wake of their band mate's demise. Jordan's recruitment certainly also met the approval of guitarist Keith Richards who had previously enlisted the collaborator of Boz Scaggs and John Mayer, among others, for his solo endeavors.

Still, there's an all too palpable atmosphere of ambivalence arising from Hackney Diamonds. The Stones' first studio album of original material since A Bigger Bang (Rolling Stones Records, 2005) betrays a tentative approach most evident on the very up-tempo numbers like "Angry," where the group should be playing and singing with unhesitating panache. It's as if they can't (or won't) let loose with the abandon that used to come naturally with Watts (literally) behind them.

In particular, the guitar riffing between Richards and fretboard partner Ronnie Wood lacks the swagger emanating from, say "Start Me Up," while it's unsettling to hear lead vocalist Mick Jagger shouting to no apparent purpose on "Live By The Sword:" printing the lyrics he's singing within the enclosed twelve-page booklet only reveals that the words lack the ironic wit of something like "Street Fighting Man."

After all, the twelve-track collection produced by Andrew Watt—a former collaborator of Justin Bieber, Post Malone and Miley Cyrus, notably also credited with co-writing three songs with the longstanding Jagger/Richard team— wasn't created to provide product, but instead conjure up inspiration for another such work (after some false starts in recent years preceding its completion).

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that the highlights of this roughly forty-minute set are those farthest removed from the hard-rocking, guitar-oriented sound of the Rolling Stones. Proffering the absurd image of Jagger chopping wood as part of his need to get away from it all, the country blues slant of "Dreamy Skies" sounds effective on its own terms, but also as a set up for the cacophonous "Mess It Up:" here the musicians strut as they play together, their saucy gait no doubt inspiring that inimitable yawp of Jagger's.

Richards' sole lead vocal is similarly fitting on "Tell It To Me Straight." Slight gospel inflections in the changes of the reflective tune render the indefatigable musician's inner dialogue an ever clearer depiction of the misgivings he (and the other bandmembers?) held in regard to this project.

But this particularly frank, subdued moment also works as an ideal segue to "Sweet Sounds of Heaven." That said, this vintage r&b styled tune might better have concluded with a flourish of the exalting horns rather than extend into the orgiastic vocal give-and-take between Lady Gaga and Jagger. Perhaps the presence of Stevie Wonder on multiple keyboards led (unfortunately) to that overextended, impromptu coda.

Original Stones bassist Bill Wyman is nowhere so extraneous in his appearance on the aforementioned "Sword" (where he bonds with his former rhythm-section mate in one of Watts' two appearances here). Still, the impenetrable sheen of this audio mix by Serban Ghenea renders Paul McCartney's bass ill-defined for "Bite My Head Off."

Elton John's piano is more prominent on "Get Close" as is former Tom Petty Heartbreaker Benmont Tench's during "Depending On You." And David Campbell's arrangement of orchestration is fittingly restrained there, though it is nowhere near as elegant as the strings on "Moonlight MIle" from Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones Records, 1971)

The famous names are thus just slightly more than mere marketing. As is the double-CD set (adding to multiple other configurations) released on a limited basis some three months after the initial issue of Hackney Diamonds: one disc contains the entire set played at New York's Racket Club on the eve of the LP's original release .

Mixing vintage and new material, the Rolling Stones circa late-2023 sound lively enough and certainly more sure of themselves than on much of the corollary studio work. Accordingly, these seven cuts also achieve what its companion piece does not: fortify Steve Jordan's membership in the group.

It's not just the power of Jordan's playing on new songs like "Angry" or the way he gooses the ensemble during chestnuts like "Jumpin' Jack Flash." The subtleties of his snare and kick drum work on "Tumbling Dice" add to the visceral and emotional impact, all the more so as such playing sounds similar to his predecessor's, sans any apparently overt attempt to copy.

The same might be said of the acoustic rendition of Muddy Waters' "Rolling Stone Blues" that closes the album. Hearkening to the Rolling Stones' roots in terms of style (not to mention the choice of their name for the group), this open and unaffected interpretation of an elemental blues song effectively recapitulates the effort they made in the studio for the previous long-player comprised of covers Blue And Lonesome (Polydor/Rolling Stones Records, 2016).

As such it would be perfectly appropriate if this cut ultimately stands as the conclusion to the very last 'new' recording of the Rolling Stones. If that indeed turns out to be the case, Hackney Diamonds would transcend the pure product of the Nineties like Voodoo Lounge (Virgin/Rolling Stones Records, 1994) and Bridges to Babylon (Virgin/Rolling Stones Records, 1997), even if it pales next to far superior (albeit erratic) work of this iconic group such as Beggars Banquet (London/Decca Records, 1968) and Let It Bleed (London/Decca Records, 1969).

The (overly?) scrupulous credits inside this twenty-sixth studio album of the Rolling Stones belies the offhanded slang of its title (garishly depicted in its suggestive cover art) even as the phrase may come to legitimately represent the last vestiges of an exercise in musical vandalism dating back to the now-iconic band's foundation in the blues.

Track Listing

CD1: Angry; Get Close; Depending On You; Bite My Head Off; Whole Wide World; Dreamy Skies; Mess It Up; Live By the Sword; Driving Me Too Hard; Tell Me Straight; Sweet Sounds of Heaven; Rolling Stone Blues. CD2 – Live at Racket, NYC: Shattered; Angry; Whole Wide World; Bite My Head Off; Jumpin’ Jack Flash; Sweet Sounds of Heaven.

Personnel

Mick Jagger
vocals
Keith Richards
guitar, electric
Ronnie Wood
guitar, electric
Bill Wyman
bass, electric
Paul McCartney
bass, electric
Benmont Tench
keyboards
Additional Instrumentation

Mick Jagger: guitar, percussion, harmonica; Keith Richards: vocals, bass, piano; Ronnie Wood: bass, backing vocals; Matt Clifford: Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Hammond B3 organ; Andrew Watt: bass, backing vocals, percussion; Karlos Edwards: percussion; Ron Blake:trumpet; James King: saxophone; Charlie Bisharat: violin; Songa Lee: violin; Alyssa Park: violin; Sara Perkins: violin; Michele Richards; violin; Tereza Stanislav: violin; Jennifer Takamatsu: violin; Phillip Valman: violin; Luke Maurer: viola; Tom Lea: viola; Jacob Braun: cello; Paula Hochhalter: cello; David Campbell: string arrangement; Suzie Katayama: string conductor; Bettie Ross: string contractor; Chanelle Haynes: vocals; Lady Gaga: vocals; James King: backing vocals.

Album information

Title: Hackney Diamonds (2CD) | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Rolling Stones Records


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