By Brian Ives
It’s the Rolling Stones album that Keith Richards has wanted to make for decades. On Blue and Lonesome the band get down and dirty, going back to their roots as a killer blues and R&B cover band. And they went deep here, avoiding the predictable and more well-known songs for lesser known gems. The result is the band’s strongest album in decades, and it features Mick Jagger’s best harmonica playing (maybe) ever.
True story: while listening to the album, I wrote checked off each song as a contender for the top five. It was very difficult to narrow it down: the album is fantastic from start to finish. However, Here are five highlights from the album.
“Blue and Lonesome”: A 1949 song by Memphis Slim, the Stones play this one with a real sense of swagger and menace. This doesn’t sound like a band you’d run into at the Waldorf Astoria; it sounds like a gang you’d bump into in a run down hotel on the rough side of town. And when you see them coming, you’d turn the other way. Often when Jagger sings the blues, he has all of the swagger with none of the sorrow. But when he sings “Baby please.. baby please come back to me!” the sense of sorrow is palpable, both when he sings and when he’s playing harmonica.
“All Your Love”: A 1957 song by Magic Sam. Many solos on Stones songs are taken by Keith Richards or Ronnie Wood’s guitars or Mick Jagger’s harmonica, here their long time keyboardist Chuck Leavell gets some room to shine, and he does the band’s late pianist, Ian Stewart, proud.
“I Gotta Go”: A 1955 b-side for harmonica legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Little Walter, drummer Charlie Watts is the star here; he sounds like he’s having the time of his life here, as he propels the band through this underrated classic. And Jagger’s harmonica playing holds up to Walters, no small feat.
“Commit a Crime” A 1966 Howlin’ Wolf song, this one may be known to rock fans, because Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble covered it on their 1986 live album Live Alive [listed as “I’m Leaving You (Commit a Crime)”], in a totally different arrangement. The Stones just smoke here.
“I Can’t Quit You Baby”: Written by the great Willie Dixon and recorded by Chicago legend Otis Rush in 1955, this is probably the most well known song on the album, having been covered by Led Zeppelin on their 1969 debut. Special guest Eric Clapton takes the solo here, burning up the fretboard. Jagger’s vocals sounds more unhinged than anything he’s done in a long time, or ever.
As Mick Jagger told Radio.com a few weeks ago, the Stones are working on an album of originals, but here’s hoping they always make some times to knock out blues covers.