The Rolling Stones
Blue & Lonesome
Rating: **** (a low one, leaning towards 3.75)
It’s no secret: many of the bands that came out of the British Invasion in the early 1960s were influenced by the blues music coming out of the US. Around this time that one of those influences, blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson, came over to the UK. When speaking about the backing bands that were with him, Williamson was quoted to saying “Those British boys want to play the blues real bad, and they do.” In the next five decades or so, many of those British boys have become rock legends in their own right. The Rolling Stones are one of those bands Williamson might’ve been referring to. 54 years after their formation, the Rolling Stones have decided to go back to their roots on their latest album. The album, Blue & Lonesome, is the band’s first studio album since 2005’s A Bigger Bang. However unlike their previous albums, Blue & Lonesome is an album consisting entirely of blues covers. When going into the studio to record their next studio album, the band went in with the intention of making an album of new material. While jamming one day in the studio, something just clicked and the band were able to crank this album out in just three days without any overdubs. While it might not be the album fans were expecting, Blue & Lonesome is still an album worth listening to.
Reviewing an album like Blues & Lonesome is difficult: not only is it an album of covers but it’s also an album of blues covers. When it comes to the blues, it’s a fairly simple genre: it can be slow or it can be fast. However, it’s a genre of music that requires a lot of heart and passion. While the Stones might be in their 70s now, the guys have always been passionate about the blues. Hell, the band even got their name from a Muddy Waters tune. It seems only natural that they make an album like this. If you’re looking for some toe-tapping numbers, “Just Your Fool” and “Ride ‘Em On Down” should do the job. Both are catchy tunes and the band sounds very tight. If one of the four members stood out the most on this album, it would be Mick Jagger. Not only is his voice in good shape but his harmonica playing on this album is impressive. While he’s best known for his showmanship on stage, Jagger is a damn good harmonica player. Some may think he isn’t as impressive as the late Brian Jones but I think the casual music listener may forget that Jagger has many other talents. All of the guys are in fine form here. Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood are still a great guitar duo while Charlie Watts and Darryl Jones make a great rhythm section. With this being a blues album, there are many songs that heavily feature the piano. Longtime back-up member Chuck Leavell is good on this album. Just listen to the slow blues of “All of Your Love” and hear how he works the keys. Eric Clapton even makes a guest appearance on the album for two songs- “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” The former has Clapton shining on slide guitar while the latter might sound familiar to some listeners as Led Zeppelin covered the song on their debut album.
While a very good album, Blue & Lonesome has its downsides. With this being a blues album, some listeners may get bored during some of the slower songs. In fact, I would say the album’s second half leans a little on the weak side. “Hoo Doo Blues” and “Little Rain” aren’t the worst songs ever but then again, they aren’t the most exciting songs either. As expected with modern day albums, the production is another downside. While passable for the most part, there are times when the album sounds too loud. However, Blues & Lonesome does deserve some praise when compared to the band in the last few years. For a little over two decades now, fans have criticized the band’s need for a backing group- complete with back-up singers and many other musicians. On Blue & Lonesome, it sounds like there’s less than ten people playing on the album. For the most part, it’s just the four Rolling Stones plus Darryl Jones and Chuck Leavell.
For what it is, Blue & Lonesome is a fine album from the Rolling Stones. While some might be disappointed in it being a covers album, try and think about this: at this point in their career, the Rolling Stones have released a lot of music. While the band’s last few albums were met with mostly positive reviews, those who said otherwise called the band out for their lack of creativity- the same creativity we heard on Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street or Some Girls. With that being said, the band doesn’t need to make anymore new music. In fact, I wouldn’t have a problem with this being their last album. Think back to their debut album: with the exception of “Tell Me,” all of the songs were covers. Blue & Lonesome would serve as a nice book ending to a career. Regardless of what the future may bring, Blue & Lonesome is at least worth a listen.