It was the love for blues and R&B music that bonded two teenage music aficionados Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and this music was the building blocks on which they based their work of artthe band The Rolling Stones. 50 years ago when the Rolling Stones' songwriting partnership between these two began gaining its momentum and they started writing their own songs, the band slowly began abandoning their all-blues cover records approach and commenced branching and welcoming more diverse music during the swinging '60s. Slowly, the band began embracing pop, rock and even experimental sounds on its records. Soon they began straddling the bridges between blues and rock music and from then on the Stones set the blueprint for the band's timeless records to come. Dozens of records, thousands of concerts and a few decades away, the Stones never really entirely abandoned the blues as it is part of the band's DNA. The blues was in evidence on the vast majority of the band's releases, but it never really dominated any of them as it did in the '60s. But, with Blue and Lonesome,
The Rolling Stones are returning to their first love -the blues with a record entirely comprised of blues covers. After so many years the band is releasing a "nothin'-but-the-blues" album featuring flawlessly faithful renditions of blues staples only this time the music is fuelled by the band's relentless energy and the old bluesmen's wisdom and maturity it has craved for early on.
In the same way that trumpeter Louis Armstrong was at the center of the genesis of jazz music in the '20s, so were the Stones at the center of the British blues revival and invasion of the '60s. It is a documented fact and a history lesson that the British bands led by the Stones actually reintroduced the blues to the world especially to musicians and fans in its native country, US. As was once said by renowned music journalist Peter Guralnick who found himself drawn to the band's music because apart from the similarity of tastes it also introduced him to the music he had previously ignored. By his own admission "The Stones have always proved the best advertisement for American black music outside of the music itself .... the Stones, from the first, have paid their respects." The contribution to the evolution of blues-rock was extraordinary as they brought unmatched integrity and passion to the genre. Like many of their countrymen, the band had a deep love for the blues, which generated a market and fan base for the music that that was wider and more diversified than ever before.
One of the first indications that the Stones were itching to go back into the studio after a decade of relentless touring was Keith Richards' solo album Crosseyed Heart.
Apart from two songs that were recorded for the Grrrr
compilation the band's studio output was basically nil since the excellent Bigger Bang
(Virgin, 2005). Blue and Lonesome is a significant recording as it represents a coming full circle for The Stones and the band's lifelong relationship with the blues. Very few musicians would have the confidence or the chops to tackle classic blues pieces by legendary artists but on this record the Stones are diving deep into the band's early history and early sets by selecting songs by blues artists like Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Memphis Slim. The chemistry of a great band might well derive from the meeting of like minds and this record, unlike the other of their records, which usually take months, was recorded in just three days. The band had a break in its schedule and went to a studio to try out new songs and instead it recorded these songs in a quick succession.Blue and Lonesome
is ambitious and above all authentic. The first single that gave a taste of what was to come was Little Walter's "Just Your Fool" a track that hits you like a runaway train. It's one of his four songs that can be found on this record. The other single "Hate to See you Go" is even better. It demonstrates an incredible versatility and has that group sound that bristles with energy and interplay. Part of the fun is hearing the Stones play around with these songs to entertain themselves. It is full of power, passion, joy, and pride.
The band is more than up for the task of playing and modernizing these classic blues songs while paying homage to their origins. The blues as a music form has an indefatigable formula and any player or band as resourceful as the Stones is capable of applying its distinct imprint on the material. "Commit A Crime" is a gritty romp with edgy, bone-crunching riff, while the title track is a slow grinder. "I Gotta Go" has a marching pace with Jagger's menacing vocals driving the song forward. The band is playing with determination and focus like a young band with something to prove. What is also truly evident here, apart from the fact that the band is in great shape and mood for playing, are Jagger's vocals. Not only does he sing like in the best of his days but his vocal performances instantly lift and galvanize the band. "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" is one of two songs (I Can't Quit Yoy Baby) where guitarist Eric Clapton has a guest spot and is lending his talent. Most of the songs don't have many solos, but here he lets it rip.
The pace of the songs may vary but the intensity is always high. "Ride em on Down" is full of snarling guitars and thunderclap drumming. It sounds almost like the devil's army galloping through it. "Hoodoo Blues" is a snake drive while Little Rain is also a slow paced jam and where Jagger's excellent harmonica skills come to prominence. "Just Like a Treat You" is nice romp where the band recalls "It's All Over Now" and it sounds like it is having a hell of a good time.
The Rolling Stones sound reinvigorated and they tear through these songs with an energy and stamina seen only at their live shows. The real question is why an album with blues covers now? Usually, great bands and musicians start their careers by saluting great artists before them.This album could have been made at any point of the band's career. Hopefully, they aren't ending it. However, very few can doubt the sheer musical brilliance on display. Blue and Lonesome
provides a clear connection to an essential musical form and the band's sound effectively elevates it all.