Before I was even a teenager, I wanted to be a Rolling Stone. Back then, in the Stone age before MTV, we had a little show called Shindig (where the house musicians included the recently departed Leon Russell) and back in 1965 the Rolling Stones appeared on it and introduced Howlin’ Wolf to us white children. I was eight years old at the time and a big Stones fan. Mick and the boys were no cultural appropriators, they were blues evangelists, always giving credit to the originators – even to the point of insisting that WABC, one of the big three networks in the US at the time, book Howlin’ Wolf or they wouldn’t do the show. The Stones introduced millions of young Caucasians to the artistry of Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, Robert Johnson and others whose records originally were targeted for an African-American audience. This led to a lifelong love of the blues for me.
Therefore, it came as no surprise that their new album of blues covers was good – I was just surprised at how good it is. The last full Stones album, other than the odd song here or there, that I felt was worthy of the band’s legacy was Exile On Main Street. Blue And Lonesome is the album the Stones should have recorded many years ago. I for one am just glad that they finally did. At a time in their careers when most musicians move into safe genres like country, folk or the great American songbook this band is returning to its roots. They are not afraid to be compared to their former selves.
Mick is in fine voice. He sounds as good as he did in 1964 and he has always been one of the more credible blues harmonica players of the British blues groups. So it is no wonder that there are two Little Walter songs here. Eric Clapton joins in on two songs “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and thankfully he doesn’t overplay. Ron Wood stands out on the track “Blue and Lonesome”. However, mostly, the group just plays well together and sounds like, well, a group – and that is a good thing.
In an age of auto-tune, synthesized beats and people recording separately in different cities (often in hotel rooms) over a span of many months, this album was recorded live in the studio, with the band gathered around a circle of microphones, in just three days. Producer Don Was succeeds in getting the vibe of a Chess or Cobra records recording session. And, better than that, the band plays in a manner worthy of those venerable labels.
Finally, the song selection is great and not obvious (in the current vernacular, it is curated). The performances are spirited, not merely reverent, and have a sense of urgency. Moreover, this is an album I will listen to over and over – without any sense of nostalgia. It is simply a good album. This is an album you should play loud and dance to, just like the original blues music it pays tribute to.