Not to sound mean or anything, but The Rolling Stones doing an album of blues covers is one of the most unoriginal ideas in the history of recorded music. At the same time though, it actually makes perfect sense for one of the (if not THE) founders of rock and roll. Before the 50th anniversary tour, before the mixing disco with punk, before kicking heroin in a French mansion, even before fornication via Mars bar, the Stones were pretty boys doing cheeky covers of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. It’s where almost all of rock music started in the early 1960s and it where any and no matter how far big rock music got, someone would bring it back to the lonely blues. And if this truly is the final studio album from the original bad boys of rock, what better way to send everyone off than going back to basics.
Blue & Lonesome is the twenty-fifth studio album from the Stones and features covers of work by Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Johnson, and Willie Dixon. A crisp 12 tracks at 42 and a half minutes, the album sounds like the most comfortable the Stones have been in years. There are no slow songs or ballads pandering to the adult contemporary folk, no flourishes of new technology to get hip with the kids, just the Stones doing what they were always good at: having fun with the blues and making it groove. The likes of “Just Your Fool,” and “Commit a Crime” have the classic Stones strut with Charlie Watts’ two-step back beat leading the songs. Ronnie Wood and Ketih Richards roll along with their guitar skills, each trading solos off of each other. Frontman Mick Jagger’s voice is still a bit rough in his old age, but it fits for the song material. Since the songwriters were old and worn down from the trouble in their days, Jagger fits the bill as the run-down rockstar looking back on his woes and the women he’s left behind. The songs fit the context of where the Stones are now, and the band sounds revitalized going back to basics.
The really good moments are when the Stones go full blues with slow-burning smokey tracks and jam out. No matter how far rock bands have stretched and altered their performances of rock music over the years, the Stones can still probably kick their asses. The title track, “Little Rain,” and “All of Your Love” sizzle with a heavy groove and scorching guitar solos that don’t drag, but actually set the fire underneath each song. Keith and Ronnie play 0ff of each other very well, giving equal space for the rough guitar solos that never get boring. And then there’s Jagger in the some of the most honest singing he’s done in his entire career. It sounds like the Stones playing the last songs they’ll ever play, and they mean it
It’s barely an event that the Stones have a new album, so this will probably go down without little fanfare, even from the Stones themselves who are still probably on tour right now. But Blue & Lonesome is almost the perfect album for the Stones to make now. They have nothing left to say, nothing left to do, so now they should just be happy to be themselves.