Rolling Stones’ New Blues Album: Our Writers Answer 5 Big Questions
Now that the Rolling Stones have confirmed they will release an all-blues covers album, Blue & Lonesome, on Dec. 2, it’s time to think about what this all means for the “world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.”
Is it a smart idea for them to release a blues album at this stage in their career? How will this project affect their rumored 2017 original-material studio album? Is it a good or a bad thing that the whole album was recorded in just three days? We let five of our writers answer these and other big Rolling Stones questions.
1) Do you think a Rolling Stones blues album is a bad, good or great idea at this point in their career?
Nick DeRiso: Great. If you tore the Stones’ music all the way down, blues would represent their sturdy foundation. So they bring an integrity to this that’s implicitly lacking when their contemporaries make the odd turn toward country or mid-century pop. It’s also a smart way to grow into their elder statesmanship.
Matthew Wilkening: Great. With the notable exceptions of Metallica, Bob Dylan and a handful of other artists, covers albums can seem like a cash grab. But this fits perfectly, and if it somehow helps the Stones reconnect with the way their wrote and recorded their best early original material, that’s even better.
Dave Lifton: They probably should have done it 10-15 years ago, when albums, especially those by classic rock artists, still had some degree of commercial clout. But it makes sense any time the Stones play blues, so it’s a good idea.
Jeff Giles: At first, I felt like it was kind of a cop-out, especially given how long it’s been since they released a new record. But there’s something to be said for playing to your strengths, and although a substantial portion of the Stones’ spark derives from the tension between Keith Richards’ traditional inclinations and Mick Jagger’s restlessness, I’m looking forward to hearing the band sit in its wheelhouse for an album.
2) What are your initial impressions of the first single, “Just a Fool”?
DeRiso: It fills the need for an uptempo track, gives Mick Jagger space for a few spittle-flying turns on the harp and is blessedly free of modern studio gimmickry. That said, I’m far more interested in the darker turns still to come.
Gallucci: It’s the most lively they’ve sounded on record since Steel Wheels. If this is what they sound like when they make a record in three days, I’m all for it.
Wilkening: Pretty darn cool. Very happy it’s not overproduced. It’s always great to be reminded just how well Mick Jagger plays the harmonica, and his voice sounds fantastic. I love that it’s just two minutes long.
Lifton: I like it. They were clearly looking to find that Chess Studios sound, and Mick Jagger on the harmonica is always great. My biggest problem with the Stones for the past few decades is that Charlie Watts clearly doesn’t want to play rock music anymore. But give him a blues shuffle and he’s happy.
Giles: If you’re at all excited by the prospect of a blues album from the Rolling Stones in 2016, then it’s hard to imagine what you’d have to complain about here. It stomps and swaggers a little, it sounds kinda lo-fi and it leaves plenty of room for Mick Jagger to blow. My only real problem is that it’s too short, and I can’t remember the last time I said that about a Stones single.
3) This entire album was recorded in three days. Does that make you more or less excited to hear it?
DeRiso: Far more excited. If you’re going to do this kind of record, do it together, and do it fast. Perhaps more important is the notion that tearing through these old songs reminded them of the band’s original sense of musical camaraderie. That could pay big dividends with the next original project.
Gallucci: Laboring over an album at this point in their career won’t do the Stones any good. I’m all for detailed production and fine-tuning your work … but not from a bunch of 70-year-old guys. Go in there and bang it out. The original bluesmen didn’t think too hard about this stuff; the Stones shouldn’t either.
Wilkening: This is the best part of the press release, and exactly how an album like this should be done. The next thing we need to do is to lock Stevie Wonder into the old Motown studios: “Here’s the deal, Stevie. We’ll bring you whatever meal you want, after you finish each new song. Ten songs and you’re free, and then we’ll peacefully go to jail for however long the courts deem necessary.”
Lifton: Definitely more. You should never overthink the blues. Plus, if you keep the Stones locked up together for too long, that’s when problems start.
Giles: Infinitely more excited. We’ve heard what the Stones can do with modern production, and it isn’t an improvement over the grungy stuff they cut in their classic era. It’s obviously a bit of an affectation to make an album the old-fashioned way during the digital era, but so what? If the rest of it sounds like the single, then the ends justify the means.
4) Which are you more excited about — ‘Blue & Lonesome’ or the rumored 2017 album made up of new and original Stones songs?
DeRiso: I’ve been thinking of them as companion pieces, girding and contextualizing one another. I can already envision a playlist that blends both.
Gallucci: Blue & Lonesome by far. The Stones haven’t put any real effort in a new studio album since the ’80s, and it shows.
Wilkening: It’ll be great if we get both, but if forced to choose, the studio album. A Bigger Bang still doesn’t get the credit it deserves, and as I noted earlier, if revisiting their early methods results in an even more stripped-down sound on the new material, we could be in for a real treat.
Lifton: Blue & Lonesome by a mile. I like the song selection here too. Chicago blues always suited them best.
Giles: As fun as I think Blue & Lonesome‘s best moments will be, I’m more interested in hearing how these sessions bled into and impacted the Stones’ new material. If we really do get an original album out of the band in 2017, and it’s really an outgrowth of the period that produced the blues LP, then we might finally have a veteran rock record that lives up to its inevitable “their best since [classic album]!” proclamations.
5) What’s your favorite Rolling Stones blues song?
DeRiso: “Stop Breaking Down.” I’ve always loved the way the song starts in a straight-forward enough manner, then begins – in keeping with their desultory sessions at Nellcote – to run completely off the rails. By the end, it sounds like a blues house party.
Gallucci: One of their earliest: “Little Red Rooster.” Even though the Stones started as a blues band, as they’ll quickly point out, there’s still a bit of white-guys-playing-the-blues creakiness about some of those early records. “Little Red Rooster” is one of the times they got it exactly right. Brian Jones’ slide work on that song is phenomenal.
Wilkening: “Midnight Rambler,” and it’s not even close. I’m no purist. The most interesting thing about the blues to me is how later generations of rock artists — ZZ Top, the Stones, Led Zeppelin — expanded the genre.
Lifton: “Around and Around.” Yes, I’m still holding a grudge that it didn’t make our list when we voted. I love “Stray Cat Blues,” but it was inspired by the Velvet Underground, and it’s not even really a blues!
Giles: Ask me tomorrow and my answer might be different, but today I’m going with the Stripped version of “The Spider and the Fly.”
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