Review of Blue & Lonesome Album by Rolling Stones

It's been a relentlessly cruel year for Rock's old guard, much has been written about the loss of icons in 2016, yet in the dying embers of this musical annus horribilis rather miraculously The Rolling Stones have triumphantly returned. Surely a covers album for their 23rd studio offering can't be their best effort since 1994's Voodoo Lounge? The answer is a resounding yes, by resetting their clock and going all the way back to their humble beginnings this is an utterly re-invigorated band that no longer feels like it's left the glory days a number of decades ago in the rear-view mirror.

Rolling Stones Blue & Lonesome Album

What's most astonishing about Blue & Lonesome is that by making a modest, rather than grandiose, statement The Stones remind you why you liked them in the first place. While Jagger and Richards appear to have primarily traded on nostalgia for much of the 21st Century, by mining a treasure trove of Chicago Blues standards that will be unknown to younger listeners, they've found the perfect balance between paying homage to the greats and rejuvenating their aging brand. I'm delighted that for once this Stones record isn't a false prophecy of greatness, its intimate scrappy vigour is the real deal.

Kicking off with the gritty 12-bar Blues of Buddy Johnson's 'Just Your Fool' it's clear that the album title isn't a solemn description of what's on offer, rather it's a celebratory description of classic Blues stripped of Mick and Keith's usual bells and whistles. It's like listening to the band in a tiny pub or rehearsal space jamming through some wonderful forgotten songs. The approach is thankfully, short, concise, renditions with everyone staying in their place. There's no Keith lead vocal, no Mick playing guitar, and no overly theatrical vocal acrobatics. That's not to say that Jagger doesn't belt these songs out, but he's concentrating on doing the performances justice whether through his singing or harmonica, rather than putting on a show. It's no surprise that the band knocked out this album in just three days of recording, the rough and ready attitude is the backbone to what's here.

Keith's guitar solos are excellent and don't dominate proceedings, meanwhile touches like the piano on 'All Of Your Love' offer colour and texture to the laid-back Blues on offer. That Eric Clapton features on two tracks is simply icing on the cake, there's no pomp or ceremony about him wandering into the studio and plugging in, the musicians all just jam along without over-emphasising his presence. If there's a criticism to make it's that The Stones are concentrating so hard on rattling through a 45-minute set of their favourite Blues tracks, that they forget to throw in that one unforgettable killer moment that most of their early records possessed. It's about the only flaw in album that's a lot of fun to listen to though.

Some listeners may find that returning to similar ground that The Stones explored with 1964's cover version of Howlin' Wolf's 'Little Red Rooster' is an unexpected left-turn, especially as their first studio project in eleven years. However I think it's a reminder of how good this band has been in the past and by underlining that, Jagger and Richards have opened up a number of possibilities for new albums that may be a far more fitting victory lap for The Stones than anything they've come up with since the seventies.

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