Quick, play “Look What You Done” on December’s Children (And Everybody’s), and then put on the Stones’ incredible Blue & Lonesome, where instantaneously upon hearing the first song, “Just Your Fool,” it’s clear this is the same band. Oh yeah, that’s Mick, not Brian Jones, sounding like Little Walter on the harp, and sure those quarter-century’s-duration “new guys” have replaced Bill Wyman and Stew, but it’s the same band. Only better.
How long have we waited to say that a newly recorded Rolling Stones record is worth listening to? The new tracks released from the Exile sessions are the closest we have come since 1980 to be enthusiastic about a new Stones offering. Thirty-six years ago! Yes, their grudging release of the 1973 Brussels concert, and the fantastic live shows from the ’71 British tour, when the “classic Stones” band was assembled (Mick Taylor, Nicky Hopkins, Bobby Keys, and Jim Price as sidemen) mercifully was included in the super duper release of Sticky Fingers. But not since Emotional Rescue have we put on a Stones album and played it and played it and played it. And so you know, we play the Stones constantly. Just nothing, usually, of a vintage later that Exile.
The original Stones were the very best British blues band. They had roots in the Chicago blues, Delta blues, as well as R&B and Chuck Berry. Too many British blues bands, good as they might be, were just vehicles for a lead guitarist and a singer, from John Mayall to the Yardbirds to the Jeff Beck Group, or like a number of the San Francisco bands, just an excuse for high-powered noodling over a 12-bar frame. Sure, Cream was something different, a jazz-rock fusion band contained within blues and pop music. But while the Beatles were influenced by R&B, they really never played the blues. The Stones, though, they had swing, Charlie Watts being a superb blues drummer, and Brian Jones was in his element playing Elmore James. They actually recorded at 2121 Michigan Avenue, they hung out at Chess Records, and took on tour with them the black bluesman they so loved.
Blue & Lonesome is one of the very finest white blues band albums ever — up there with The J Geils Band and John Hammond’s 1971 masterpiece, Source Point. The reason we love it so is because of who the Stones sound like here, aside from themselves, of course. Listen to I Gotta Go and then a song from any of Little Walter’s albums, and you’ll hear the sound of shuffle drumming (Charlie channelling the late Fred Below) and the interplay of the guitars sounds like Robert “Junior” Lockwood and Luther Tucker. “Commit A Crime” could be an outtake from 1971’s The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions (on which Charlie played drums.) Going for a sound that invokes Walter Jacob’s and Chester Burnett’s bands (with the great Hubert Sumlin on guitar) is bliss itself.
Have to say this too. This is Mick’s album. He carries it with amazing musicianship on harp, and his septuagenarian voice is both strong and aged like a true bluesman. Years ago, when Keith said the Stones could play on and on into old age like their blues idols, we really wished it were true. But every exposure we have had to the Stones playing their old songs confirms the rightness of our adage, “I love the Stones so much, I can’t bear to listen to ’em live,” which I coined in 1989 and have militantly stuck to since. If the Stones went out on the road to play these songs, I’d camp out to buy tickets.