Re­view: A weath­ered vibe runs through new Rolling Stones al­bum

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By MIKAEL WOOD

Los An­ge­les Times

The Rolling Stones claim they made their new blues al­bum in three days — which is re­mark­able since it sounds like they couldn’t have spent more than two.

Eas­ily their rawest record­ing in decades, “Blue & Lone­some” finds the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers hap­pily re­con­nect­ing with the un­var­nished Chicago blues that in­spired the late Brian Jones to form the band in 1962.

Back then, the Stones learned to play — and to pose — em­u­lat­ing records they heard by artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Muddy Wa­ters. Now, on a 12-track al­bum of cov­ers they cut to­gether in one room in real time, they’re look­ing back at those pioneers, pay­ing trib­ute to the mu­sic that launched them to­ward su­per­star­dom.

The Stones be­ing the Stones, of course, they’re also pay­ing trib­ute to them­selves. Im­plicit in “Blue & Lone­some” is the idea that these 70-some­thing veter­ans have stuck around longer than their idols did; the al­bum presents them not as fresh-faced acolytes of the gnarled blues­men but as sea­soned peers.

In­deed, what strikes you af­ter you get used to hear­ing the band in such a stripped­down fash­ion is how old the mu­si­cians sound. That’s a qual­ity the Stones have typ­i­cally run from in the stu­dio (where they’re known for re­cruit­ing younger col­lab­o­ra­tors to punch up new songs) and on­stage (where Mick Jag­ger still does loads of ac­tual run­ning).

Per­form­ing at Oc­to­ber’s clas­sic-rock Desert Trip fes­ti­val in In­dio, Calif., the singer was the first to sprint down a lengthy cat­walk that Bob Dy­lan and Neil Young ap­peared not even to no­tice.

Here, though, Jag­ger em­pha­sizes the cracks in his voice — the wa­ver­ing tone and the frayed edges — to give the sense of a guy who’s been thor­oughly beat up by life.

“You put poi­son in my cof­fee in­stead of milk or cream,” he moans in Howlin’ Wolf’s “Com­mit a Crime,” and though the nar­ra­tor clearly sur­vived his lover’s at­tack, he hardly emerged un­scathed.

Jag­ger puts across the same weath­ered vibe on har­mon­ica, which he takes up often on “Blue & Lone­some,” most mem­o­rably in the dirge­like ti­tle track writ­ten by Lit­tle Wal­ter. The sound here is ba­si­cally an am­pli­fied death wheeze.

On gui­tars, Keith Richards and Ron­nie Wood de­con­struct fa­mil­iar riffs, break­ing them down into jagged shards, as in a snarling ren­di­tion of “All of Your Love,” orig­i­nally recorded by Magic Sam, and Light­nin’ Slim’s “Hoo Doo Blues,” in which one of them slashes at a sin­gle note for most of the song.

This isn’t a gui­tar-hero record with com­pli­cated, ath­letic solo­ing meant to show­case hard-won tech­nique. Which isn’t to say the play­ing is unim­pres­sive; it’s often amaz­ing.

But what the Stones are go­ing for here is tex­ture — a kind of ru­ined viril­ity — and that’s true even when Eric Clap­ton, a.k.a. Mr. Tech­nique, shows up for two songs, in­clud­ing Wil­lie Dixon’s creep­ing “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” (Among the other tunes the band does are Dixon’s “Just Like I Treat You,” with a ragged beat from Char­lie Watts, and the haunted “Lit­tle Rain” by Jimmy Reed.)

Some­times that tex­ture serves as scenery for some pretty rich theater. In “Ev­ery­body Knows About My Good Thing,” for in­stance, Jag­ger goes on for a while about how he has to call his plum­ber — some­thing the real-life Mick Jag­ger surely hasn’t done in the last half-cen­tury.

And who among us be­lieves this master ma­nip­u­la­tor has al­lowed any­one to take ad­van­tage of him re­cently, as the singer in­sists in Lit­tle Wal­ter’s “Just Your Fool”?

But role play has been Jag­ger’s spe­cialty since the be­gin­ning (when he was play­ing this very part). So best not to take the de­crepi­tude too se­ri­ously. He and the Stones will be back with an­other record, maybe one where they go EDM.

Funny thing is, it prob­a­bly won’t sound this alive.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF ROLLINGSTONES.COM

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