The Rolling Stones latest album, a collection of blues covers called Blue & Lonesome, was recorded in just three days. A short studio sessions isn't uncommon in the jazz field, but is rare in rock. The record had a spontaneous start — the band was beginning to record some new material that they weren't happy with. Someone suggested they play a blues song they all knew, and then they wound up doing at least a couple more that day. They'd long wished to record an album comprised completely of blues covers, so this project ended up fulfilling that desire. Eric Clapton, no stranger to the blues or the Stones, was doing some recording of his own next door, and he was invited to play on a couple tracks. Otherwise, the record showcases the core band as it's stood for the past two or three decades and numerous additional musicians they've toured with in recent years.
Some blues today lacks the feeling of the classics, but the Stones keep the raw energy and passion they learned from the likes of Muddy Waters, so it feels like you're hearing a bar band play a Chicago blues club. The sound is stomping and raucous, but tight. These guys have been playing together so well for so long, it's like they're one multi-instrumentalist with a bunch of arms.
Mick Jagger has aged into an elder statesman blues singer like Waters or B.B. King, and his harmonica work is especially full and bold. There's a complimentary marriage of Keith Richards' and Ronnie Wood's guitars throughout the record. They aren't dueling, they're interlaced. Wood's slide work is particularly fine on this album, and there's a beautiful use of reverb on "Little Rain". Charlie Watts shakes the floor and punches a hole in the wall with his drums. Chuck Leavell, who's played with the Stones and Clapton both, plays piano on the album. His contribution on "All of Your Love" is nice and smoky. A pianist hasn't usually been an official member of the band, but often excellent featured player keyboardists have added an important element to the Stones' sound — most notably Nicky Hopkins and band co-founder Ian Stewart. (When the Stones were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, they made sure the late Stewart's name was on the list of band members, along with late member Brian Jones and retired members Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor.)
Their song selection for the project avoids the predictable hits (many of which the Stones have already covered, beginning at the start of their recording career), but the material is uniformly strong, so the more eclectic setlist is only a boon. The Rolling Stones' writing isn't as strong these days as it was in the '60s and '70s, but as a performing band they're an absolute force of nature, and this album skips over the former and focuses on the latter, proving yet again that they have nothing left to prove.
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