Keith Richards has said Mick Jagger’s true voice comes through best when he plays harmonica. Mick can do things with the harp that he can’t vocalize.
The Stones 25th album Blue & Lonesome must certainly be a source of pride for Richards to sit back in an easychair and simply listen to his mate of 55+ years wail on harmonica like Little Walter.
On the album of 12 covers, the Stones get down and dirty by going back to their roots as a tight blues and R&B cover band. It’s a treat to hear the Stones avoiding predictable blues standards in favour of songs that have inspired and influenced their musicianship and attitude.
Blue and Lonesome is the band’s first all-covers studio release since the 1964 U.K. EP The Rolling Stones, and the Stones’ first pure, straight blues record ever.
Sonically, the album is a no-frills production, each track sounds like it was recorded “off the floor”. Lots of reverb and warm room sounding, with Mick’s harmonica loud in the mix. Blue & Lonesome is co-produced by Jagger & Richards (under their Glimmer Twins moniker) and Don Was. The album is proof a band doesn’t need to labour endlessly over recording if it’s going for straight-forward, passionate performances.
Keith Richards says, “Blue & Lonesome encapsulates everything we wanted to do and so finally, after 50-odd years, we’ve made a blues album.”
The result is the band’s strongest album in decades.
Reportedly recorded over three days (the band’s last studio album, 2005’s A Bigger Bang was recorded over at least 8 weeks), it sounds like Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie are having a blast. You can picture the guys huddled over a stack of their favourite blues records, picking out the tracks they should record.
Longtime sideman Chuck Leavell adds piano that the late- “5th Stone” Ian Stewart would be proud to hear. Darryl Jones flills-out Charlie’s rhythm section on bass, and another longtime Stones studio and stage contributor Matt Clifford adds flavour to the tracks on keyboards and organ.
Eric Clapton is featured on two tracks, Everybody Knows About My Good Thing and Willie Dixon’s I Can’t Quit You Baby.
Jagger is clearly proud with the results saying, “This album is a homage to our favourites, the people that kicked us off. They were the reason we started a band.”
The title track is one of four numbers associated with bluesman Little Walter, the others being Just Your Fool, I Gotta Go and Hate To See You Go. One of the most thrilling aspects of Blue & Lonesome is Jagger’s harmonica playing, the way he nails the Little Walter passages.
Mick’s voice sounds better than it has in years. It’s like he’s slipped into a comfy jacket he’s had hanging in his wardrobe for decades and decades: it still fits.
“Mick is really hitting his spots on this record,” says Richards on Mick. “He’s the only one left who can play harmonica like this. A lot of people might forget what a serious musician he is. This album sets Mick up. His singing and his harp playing are beyond par.”
Ronnie Wood, who joined the band in 1975 (41 years ago!) says, “I’ve come full circle from being a Stones fan in the early days to cutting the blues with them now. Some of the titles were new to me like Ride ’Em On Down. Others I knew by ear. Others, give me the key and the arrangement and I’m ready.”
Charlie Watts has long been a tough taskmaster of the band. He says: “The Rolling Stones are a very good blues band. This is an example. When we let go, that’s what we sound like. I am personally very pleased with it. I know Keith particularly, but me as well, always wanted to do an album like this. It’s a good piece of work to put out.”
Watts says the performances on Blue & Lonesome have “an authentic ring to them. We played them more like a Chicago band than we’ve ever done.”
The Stones in concert crank out dozens of hit songs they have crafted since their early pure-blues days; Start Me Up; Brown Sugar; Gimme Shelter; etc. etc. etc. But to hear them dig in and truly own 12 of the songs they discovered 50+ years ago, shows the band has come full-circle. The Rolling Stones prove The Blues is what still excites them more than anything.