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The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed: 50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition

Doug Collette By

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The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed 50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition is both more and less of what usually comprises such milestone packages. And that's whether it's perceived as a magnificent scrapbook or a veritable mobile museum. There is certainly much more in terms of peripherals included, such as the hand-numbered replica-signed lithographs, a full-color poster, plus an 80-page hardcover book that includes an essay by journalist David Fricke and never-before-seen photos by the band's tour photographer Ethan Russell. But, on a cursory perusal, this weighty boxed set can nevertheless seem like decidedly less than, say, last year's corollary anniversary release of The White Album (Apple/UME, 2019) by the Stones' eternal counterparts The Beatles, despite the presence of two CD's, two LP's, and a seven-inch single.

Across all those varied formats, there is no previously-unreleased music (for whatever reason) in the form of studio outtakes, demos or alternate versions of these now familiar songs. Nevertheless, the combination of stereo and mono recording configurations, along with the prose, photos and attendant artifacts, broadly and accurately depicts this transitional phase of the iconic group's career, one in which the Rolling Stones built upon the re-configuring of their image first begun during their return to roots project the previous year, Beggars Banquet (London, 1968).

As so clearly depicted from the varied perspectives of all this different material, the transformation of the Rolling Stones is vivid to the point of startling. Rationalization though it may be, purported errors in some historical designations affixed to photos only magnify the sensation of the speedy passage of time surrounding this landmark effort. Going back to 1968 and The Rock and Roll Circus, and the departure of founding member Brian Jones shortly thereafter, then the subsequent enlistment of guitarist Mick Taylor, the group embroidered upon its Sixties image (almost to the point of caricature as fashioned in the Dickensian persona of "Jumpin' Jack Flash") and set a tone for themselves and their audience(s) as they departed the 60s and headed somewhat recklessly into future decades even beyond the 70s.

In the penetrating retrospect offered by Fricke and Russell, amplified by the more cosmetic inclusions, it is altogether remarkable the recording of such a seminal album took place during such a tumultuous period. Yet the end result of this particular creative process does make a certain amount of sense as it highlights the fundamental dynamic of the band as it exists today. Notwithstanding the fact that producer Jimmy Miller played drums on "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the abiding connection is eminently clear between the regular occupant of the kit, Charlie Watts and guitarist Keith Richards; the latter did most of the playing on stringed-instruments for the sessions (apart from the fiddle of Byron Berline on "Country Honk" and mandolin of Ry Cooder on Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain") as Jones receded from participation and bassist Bill Wyman assumed his multi-instrumental roles.

And while the music here, entirely remastered in both stereo and mono by Bob Ludwig, may or may not meet the exacting standards of audiophiles and collectors near and far (this stereo compact disc has somewhat less depth than the 2002 SACD this Grammy-winning engineer also worked on), there's no arguing how processing the sonics illuminates the Stones' skill as recording artists. Subtle arrangement touches of percussion and horns advance and recede in the mix of tracks like "Live With Me." Surrounded by multiple complementary rhythm guitar parts on "Gimme Shelter," Jagger's vocals are somewhat sublimated, but when the unified power of the musicianship becomes fully ignited through Merry Clayton's incendiary singing near the homestretch, the atmosphere conjured up is as exalting as it is chilling. Reduced to its essential core, the Rolling Stones as a band became transcendent here, in turn inspiring recruits like pianist Nicky Hopkins as he integrated himself so unobtrusively into such deceptively colorful arrangements.

There's no debating the enduring nature of the best material either. Even such comparatively minor numbers Jagger and Richards composed, like the title tune and "Monkey Man," serve their purpose in the superb pacing of the nine cuts as well as an extension of the emphasis on simplicity from the previous album. There the slightly-misconceived "Salt of the Earth" only foreshadowed this more elegantly-wrought production number "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (which still might be more penetrating in its shorter version on the flip-side of the electric single version of "Honky Tonk Women"). And positioned as something of a centerpiece, the cleverly-disguised blues "Midnight Rambler" features the often-overlooked skill of Jagger on the harp, while "You Got The Silver" represents Keith Richards' first solo lead vocal in the Rolling Stones' history (albeit because of an error that erased that of his songwriting partner's!).

As is usually the case with his writing, the erudite Fricke is as insightful as he is passionate recounting the sequence of events surrounding the protracted recording process in both London and Los Angeles. Likewise, Russell through his unobtrusive camera work. But the photographer composed an ideal summary of the concept and execution of the Let It Bleed 50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition, its heft ultimately providing exactly the kind of historical insight such collections should exude.

Track Listing: GimmeShelter; Love In Vain; Country Honk; Live with Me; Let It Bleed; Midnight Rambler; You Got the Silver; Monkey Man; You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

Personnel: Mick Jagger: lead vocals, backing vocals, harmonica, acoustic guitar; Keith Richards: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, slide guitar, backing vocals, bass guitar, lead vocal; Brian Jones: congas, autoharp; Bill Wyman: bass guitar; autoharp, vibraphone; Charlie Watts: drums; Mick Taylor; slide guitar, electric guitar; Ian Stewart: piano; Nicky Hopkins: piano, organ; Byron Berline: fiddle; Merry Clayton: co-lead vocals; Ry Cooder: mandolin; Bobby Keys: tenor saxophone; Rocky Dijon; percussion; Jimmy Miller: percussion, drums, tambourine; Leon Russell: piano and horn arrangement; Jack Nitzsche: choral arrangements; Al Kooper: piano, French horn, organ; Doris Troy; Madeline Bell, Nanette Workman: backing vocals; The London Bach Choir: vocals.

Title: Let It Bleed: 50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: ABKCO

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