December 11-15, 2015: British Grove Studios, London, England
April 2016: British Grove Studios, London, England
The Parlour Recording Studio, New Orleans, USA
Henson Recording Studios, Los Angeles, USA
Was & The Glimmer Twins
Chief engineer: Krish Sharma
Release date: December 2016
Original label: Polydor Records
Contributing musicians: Mick
Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, Darryl Jones, Chuck Leavell, Matt Clifford, Eric Clapton, Jim Keltner.
Just Your Fool
Commit a Crime
Blue and Lonesome
All of Your Love
I Gotta Go
Everybody Knows About My Good Thing
Ride 'Em on Down
Hate to See You Go
Hoo Doo Blues
Just Like I Treat You
I Can't Quit You Baby
I thought blues album = blue! Obviously. So then (the record company) sent me a blue, and it was all kind of grey and wishy washy. I said No, it's got to be bright, really blue, electric blue. So that's why we came up with that color. I think it works.
The first discussion of recording came when I
went to see the Stones play in Detroit on July 8, 2015. Then seeing
Mick and Keith individually, they both expressed a desire to get back
in the studio after that leg of the tour. By December, we were in
London with a batch of new songs. Keith was first through the door
usually. We started in the late afternoon - gentleman's hours - and
were probably done by 10 or 11 every night. The way they've always set
up - I think even when Glyn Johns recorded them - it's like a stage,
with Charlie between Ronnie and Keith, and the bass on stage left,
keyboard stage right. Mick would be facing everybody. But this time, it
was a bit more like a semi-circle.
I just followed Mick’s enthusiasm. I was letting the man roll. I was keeping my fingers crossed Mick didn’t get bored halfway through – What are we doing cutting blues? Once he got going, it was fascinating to watch. I’ve never seen him so intense on putting it down and getting it right and also making it much more part of the band than usually happens.
I was back in the U.S. during this time, and when I heard about it I was, Oh man, I didn’t get to go in. On the Latin American tour, Keith says you gotta come to my room and hear this stuff. It was amazing. He said, Chuck, we’ll get you on this stuff. A week or two later, Mick said the same thing – It wasn’t planned, we didn’t mean to do this, but we want you on it. So I went to New Orleans with Don Was, the producer, and worked in a really great studio, The Parlor, with a fantastic upright piano. They wanted all the sounds to be authentic, and that’s the case... I overdubbed my parts in six hours...
What we're playing on this album is actually the same time as we were making our first album. So they're very connected. At least to me and I think to the band. They take us back to our earlierst recordings and even pre-recording actually. So in a way a full circle, I guess, is the way the band feels about it.
I like all of them.
Sounds have changed. What makes you excited now is not the same. In music, everything’s different. But the blues still have something about them that’s really good. I love all kinds of music, and I still listen to the blues.
We’ve known these songs for 50 years. It is a learned idiom. It’s like me singing in Italian. If I’d been doing that for 50 years, you wouldn’t ask me, How do you feel about singing in Italian? I don’t feel anything about singing in Italian, I always sang in Italian. It works most of the time. It’s like, you just have to go with it and suspend disbelief. To me it’s a homage to all those people that we’ve always loved since we were kids. I can see why people might find it vaguely not correct, but we’ve always done it. And the artists themselves, they never objected.
It encapsulates everything we set out to do as a band. So, after 50-odd years, we’ve finally made an album that’s 100 per cent blues... All I’ve ever wanted to be able to say is I passed it on. With this album my wish has come true.
This album is a homage to our favourite musicians, people who kicked us off in playing music. That was the reason we started a band. For my generation it’s the equivalent of suburban white kids doing rap. It’s so culturally far away from your own experience. We were proselytisers of blues music. In the end that’s what we’re still doing.
On this album, you can hear how much (Mick is) a part of the band and what a musician he is. Because he’s such a showman, a lot of his actual talent gets hidden. But on this record, he can feel very proud of himself. I’ve always loved the man. It’s just that I have to kick his ass now and again!... This is the best record Mick Jagger has ever made. It was just watching the guy enjoying doing what he really can do better than anybody else. And also, the band ain't too shabby... He's an incredible harp player. And he also does that thing, when singing, knowing when to put the harp in and when to pull back... To me this record is a beautiful showcase of Mick's expertise. And also to capture him in full flow, enjoying himself.
(Mick) plays Little Walter stuff with incredible insight. Almost like Louis Armstrong in a way.
There ain't a guy around left that can play like that.
I mean Little Walter's like the Charlie Parker of the harmonica. So you're really putting yourself on the line if you're doing one of his tunes.
They seem to come off, the Little Walter tracks. They're certainly not the most obvious songs to do.
And while we're talking about Mick, his singing on this is staggering. He sounds like he's 22. He sounds the same as he did. He can hit all the notes. I think he's got more chops than he had when he was younger.
There’s a lot of roll on this — thanks to Charlie Watts and Darryl Jones, who played lovely bass on this. I love my rhythm section.
The thing about the blues is it changes in very small increments. People reinterpret what they know - Elmore James reinterpreted Robert Johnson licks, as did Muddy Waters. So I'm not saying we're making the jumps that they made, but we can't help but reinterpret these songs.
There are things I can attempt now that I wouldn’t have attempted before. It’s all the blues, but there are a lot of different styles. Compare Hoo Doo Man Blues to I Can’t Quit You Baby, they are totally different vocal stylings.
I'm pleased with it because it sounds so good.
The hopeful thing, the surprising thing is that it still retains that enthusiasm — that’s the thing that’s the same, the enthusiasm you’ve got for the music.
Brian would have loved the blues album. Stu, too.
This record is basically the Rolling Stones of about 19, 20 years old. Except we can do it better now (laughs). And it can be recorded better.
Some of them do sound like they could have been recorded in the '60s. There is a kind of youthful enthusiasm about them all. The atmosphere of the tracks and the way they are performed. Even my voice on them sounds quite young. We could have done this album in 1963 or '64, but, of course, it would not have sounded like this; we had not lived enough to make this record. Equally if we had made this a week later than we did, it would have been different again. It's the interesting thing about a record that is made really quickly: it reflects a moment in time - a time and a place.
I guess right now this blues record has thrown the Stones into a bit of a spin. It was not intended, it was not expected, but at the same time it is much loved in the band. Thee's a feeling like there's a new beginning, that we could clean the slate somewhere.
As Keith Richards tells it, the Rolling Stones' first-ever all-blues album is the result of the band learning how to play in the unfamiliar surroundings of Mark Knopfler's British Grove Studios... The Stones haven't worked at such swift speed in decades -- not since the early '60s, when they were churning out two albums a year -- and much of the appeal of Blue & Lonesome lies in its casualness: by being tossed off, the album highlights how the Stones play together as a band, blending instinct and skill. Blue & Lonesome isn't a showcase for virtuoso playing -- even Eric Clapton's two smoldering solos are part of the tapestry -- but rather a groove record, emphasizing feel and interplay while never losing sight of the song. Such commitment to song is one of the reasons Blue & Lonesome winds up as an unexpected triumph from Mick Jagger. A blues album from the Stones always seemed like a dream project for Keith Richards, who always championed the band's blues roots, but it's Jagger who dominates the album, playing searing harp and singing with nuance and power. Always a guarded performer -- back in 1974, he scoffed at the notion of letting his feelings flood on the page -- Jagger seems freed, pouring heart into the slow burners and uptempo shuffles alike. The rest of the Stones match his commitment and that's what makes Blue & Lonesome something remarkable. Conceptually, it's clever -- if this winds up being the last Rolling Stones album, it provides a nice bookend to their 1964 debut -- but it's artistically satisfying because it's the Rolling Stones allowing themselves to simply lay back and play for sheer enjoyment. It's a rare thing that will likely seem all the more valuable over the years. 5/5
In Just Your Fool, a Checker Records 45 for Little Walter in 1962, Watts presses the beat like a forced, precision march under the chug and spike of Richards and Wood's guitars. Blue and Lonesome, from a 1965 Little Walter single and caught here in a single take, opens with a rush of power-chord sustain, then drops into tense strut marked with jittery bursts of slalom guitar, Jagger cutting in with seething confrontation, especially on harp. Jones originally played that instrument in the Stones, but Jagger grew into their secret weapon. His hearty, supple attack and exclamatory accents are as exciting and decisive as Richards' bedrock ways on guitar. Made on impulse, as a much-needed break during other studio work, Blue and Lonesome is a monument to muscle memory. Solos are brief and tight, evoking the honed-punch effect of the original recordings. The running highlight throughout the album is the churning ensemble bond: the hot-plate jump of the guitars over the chasing rhythm in the Little Walter sprint I Gotta Go; the feral, stalking tension in Magic Sam's All of Your Love as Jagger tears at the title lyric like an upper-octave Howlin' Wolf.
Blue and Lonesome is not a record of mere returning, a look back at how it all started. The Stones were already big time when some of these songs were released by the originators including Howlin' Wolf's 1966 threat Commit a Crime and Magic Sam's defining version of All of Your Love on his 1967 landmark, West Side Soul. In fact, the younger Stones couldn't have tackled Jimmy Reed's 1957 lament Little Rain like the slow, advancing storm here. Watts comes in like stoic resignation, on brushed snare, under rolling clouds of guitar; Jagger fires lightning streaks of harp. It's barely a song – six lines of determined yearning and time running out. But it is dense with lessons, a reflection of the grip and wisdom that, for every bluesman, only comes with miles and age. 4.5/5
(W)hile there are fantastic contributions from Richards and Ronnie Wood – the grumbling twin guitars of Little Rain; the taut interplay that powers Hate to See You Go; and, especially, the woozy, chaotic backdrop they conjure on a version of Lightning Slim’s Hoo Doo Blues – it’s Jagger’s voice and harmonica that really drive Blue & Lonesome. At his least inspired, Jagger can sound like a man who isn’t singing so much as rearranging a well-worn series of mannerisms and tics, but here his vocals are extremely powerful and genuinely affecting, as if he’s digging deep within himself to find the emotions to fit the material. You expect him to be able to summon up the kind of swaggering lubriciousness requisite for Everybody Knows About My Good Thing, originally recorded by Little Johnny Taylor, which he does; more surprising is how authentically wracked he sounds on All Your Love, Hate to See You Go and the Memphis Slim-penned title track. There’s a really striking moment on the last one where he sings the line Baby please come on home to me, drawing out the word “please” into a chilling, agonised, vulnerable howl. Moreover, you wonder if Jagger’s fashion-conscious dilettantism might account for the album’s sound: Blue & Lonesome feels very much a record piloted by someone who’s heard the White Stripes or the Black Keys, or the raw blues releases on which Mississippi label Fat Possum’s reputation was founded. The sound is appealingly visceral and live: the guitars are spiky and slashing, the drums punch hard, everything – including Jagger’s voice – is coated with a thin, crisp layer of distortion, as if the band are playing at such volume and with such force that the microphones can’t quite take it... The last thing you hear on the album, after a version of Willie Dixon’s I Can’t Quit You Baby crashes to a halt, is Mick Jagger asking uncertainly was that OK? He sounds like a man who’s still slightly awed by this music in its original form; who knows he’s still paying homage to artists he can never entirely grasp, whatever Keith Richards thinks. But the answer to his question is an unqualified yes: it’s more than OK, which is not something you can say about many Stones albums over the last 30 years. 4/5
There is no attempt to slavishly recreate original arrangements, the modus operandi seems to be to get the chord changes down and then play the damn thing for the sheer thrill of it. And it is a thrill because there are not many bands left who could actually do what they do in a modern studio: just set up, face each other and play with such connection and commitment that the record is essentially a performance so alive to the music it needs no adornment or improvement. It would be wrong to say that Jagger is a revelation, because we all know what he can do, but it is a pleasure to hear him do it so well. Richards has always loved Jagger’s harmonica playing and here it is almost the featured item, with the singer taking everything he has learned from Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed and applying it with instinct and emotion. It is as if, unburdened by the self-consciousness that can inhabit his attempts to keep up with the kids, the frontman is free to just enjoy himself... If you have seen the Stones on recent tours, you will know they are playing better than at any time since their Seventies glory. The truth is they have never really been outstanding virtuosos but they have the secret to locking tight as a unit and keeping things shifting... Hopefully this will serve as a palette cleanser for the album of originals the Stones are still threatening to eventually deliver. But that would have to go some way to beat Blue And Lonesome for sheer pleasure. It may not be the kind of definitive album statement that will rock the music world to its foundations but it more than demonstrate that the world’s greatest and longest serving rock band have still got what it takes. 5/5
For decades now, blues covers have been a staple of dully competent, forgettable bar bands, and this album has its share: for instance the unspectular opener, Just Your Fool - your archetypal fast-paced 12-bar, with almost every element, the turnaround, walking bass, uptempo shuffle, that you've heard a million times before. It doesn't have the grace to be awful, just predictable... (T)he edge, the unpredictability, emanates from that unexpected source: everybody's favourite hobo, Sir Michael Jagger, who steps to the fire three songs in, and dominates thereafter... (T)hree songs, Blue and Lonesome, Hoo Doo Blues and Little Rain (...) evoke the transformational quality of the Stones' original breakthrough... Three, of course, is a magic number, but not a large one. It's disappointing that there aren't one or two more inspiring moments, especially when there's a roughly equivalent number of duds. 3/5
At its best, Blue & Lonesome finds the Stones fired up... Mick Jagger's harp playing is one of the album's defining features: driving and swooping through Keith and Ron's guitar lines, alternating between the raucous (Just Like I Treat You) and more sultry, soulful tunes (Blue and Lonesome). Jagger's vocal delivery, too, is forceful and direct, a reminder of how astute an interpreter of blues songs he can be... The work done by the two guitarists on Blue & Lonesome is essentially to bring swing and colour to the songs. Aside from Clapton's contributions, there are very few guitar solos on the album - the heavy lifting, so to speak, is done in the sympathetic interweaving bewteen Richards and Wood's playing... Throughout, Charlie Watts provides - as ever - unshowy yet powerful backing. His nimble percussion on All of Your Love or the cymbal crash that animates the second hall of Commit a Crime are every bit as characterful as the work done upfont by the guitars... For some bands, the idea of making an album of formative influences might be considered a mere stop-gap - a minor addition to the canon to keep the wolf from the door. Intriguingly, Blue & Lonesome feels like a mjor reassessment from a band, returning to the source and in doing so reminding us why they mattered in the first place. Where do the Stones go from here? 8/10
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