Blue & Lonesome The Rolling Stones Polydor/UMA Rolling back the years to the start of their apparently interminable career more than a half-century ago appears to have rejuvenated the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band. With their umpteenth album, the Stones revive memories of the days when, as a dynamic young R&B covers band, they helped spark the British blues boom. Blue & Lonesome is a throwback to the mid-1960s in other ways. Recorded in just a few days rather than the modern norm of weeks or months, it was not an album they planned on making — merely a preliminary exercise for a rescheduled release of new material. For Stones fans of yore who’ve long yearned for a return to the postwar Chicago blues that got them rolling and indeed inspired their moniker, it’s a Yuletide windfall. Recorded live without overdubs in a southwest London studio located within a stone’s throw of the clubs where the band cut its teeth, the set exudes an intensity, integrity and spontaneity that their albums have lacked since 1978’s Some Girls. It’s an ensemble album in the true sense of that word. Mick Jagger’s still the King Bee but one operating from the bosom of the band rather than the metaphorical catwalk. The mercurial frontman’s singing has never sounded stronger or more authentic. His harmonica playing is not as authoritative — a tad short on wow factor. With four of legendary blues harpist Little Walter’s songs on the playlist, the scarcity of scorching harp solos might be an issue for aficionados, along with the paucity of red-hot electric lead guitar breaks — another feature of classic Chicago blues. The song selection is impeccable and the quality of the Stones’ performance is impressive. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood’s finely honed guitar interplay combines symbiotically with the equally tight backline of drummer extraordinaire Charlie Watts and their US bass ace Darryl Jones to provide exemplary rhythm, with the band’s regular keyboard players, Americans Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford, lending assistance. A guitar cameo from Eric Clapton in I Can’t Quit You Baby helps Jagger capture the despairing sentiments of Willie Dixon’s song. In a riveting take on Little Johnny Taylor’s gutbucket blues Everybody Knows About My Good Thing, scything slide from Slowhand ignites the leader’s aptly raunchy delivery of lines such as: “Call the plumber darlin’, there must be a leak in my drain.” In Howlin’ Wolf’s similarly evocative Commit a Crime, via pungent and pithy lines such as “you put poison in my coffee instead of cream”, underpinned by mesmerising guitar chords from riff-meister Richards, Jagger conveys the lupine composer’s menace without attempting to mimic his doleful growl. A spellbinding acoustic piano solo from Leavell illuminates Magic Sam’s All of Your Love, along with Jones’s walking bass and Watts’s peerless kit-work, which climaxes with a closing drum roll. Blue & Lonesome is eloquent testimony to the Stones’ enduring love for and deep understanding of the blues.