The Rolling Stones, “Blue & Lonesome”

The Rolling Stonesthe_rolling_stones-2016-blue_and_lonesome
Blue & Lonesome
INTERSCOPE/POLYDOR
6/10

At this point in their career, no one would fault The Rolling Stones if they took the money and ran. Touring as a nostalgia act could continue to line their already busting coffers and would provide fans one last shot at seeing their heroes before the inevitable disintegration. Add to that equation that the band hasn’t released a collection of legitimately relevant music since the Reagan administration, and you’d be content knowing that their better years are forever behind them.

With Blue & Lonesome, The Stones’s first album of recorded material in over a decade, they not only roll back the years, but they prove that there may still be some bite left in Keith Richards’s guitar—and that Mick Jagger still has, miraculously, a hankering for the blues (at least as a musical conceit). Your mileage may vary as to whether that’s ultimately a good thing or not, but Blue & Lonesome is a pleasant reminder of how sharp The Stones can be. The bare-bones nature of the songs on this record allow for them to sound something like the band they envisioned themselves to be over five decades ago.

Hearing them take on Little Walter now has a different tone now than it did back when they were just a couple of guys entranced by American music, and the devotion to their roots after all these years demonstrates a kind of personal authenticity that’s long been missing from the group. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood’s guitars snarl and growl (as does Eric Clapton’s on two sneaky guest spots), allowing Jagger to comfortably sing and navigate his way through the grizzled sound. Other cuts,  like covers of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit a Crime” and Eddie Taylor’s “Ride ’Em on Down,” make you wonder what would have happened if they had kept tinkering with their early interests instead of embracing international stardom.

At their heart, The Rolling Stones are a group of guys whose iconic sound is grounded by their fondness for Chicago and Delta blues, no matter how far away from the genres their experimentations might have taken them. Somehow—and perhaps with wavering effectiveness—they’ve managed here to once again become the loose and incisive kids who grew up honoring the blues, which is something that would likely have made the artists honored on this record proud to be associated with them.

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