Music Review: The Rolling Stones Return to Roots For “Blue & Lonesome”

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The Rolling Stones have gone back to their roots with their 25th studio album Blue & Lonesome. Comprised of 12 songs written by blues legends, the Stones, along with musical guests, put their own unique spin on previously released works.

By Breanna Cooper

The Rolling Stones have gone back to their roots with their 25th studio album Blue & Lonesome. Comprised of 12 songs written by blues legends, the Stones, along with musical guests, put their own unique spin on previously released works.

Album art for Blue & Lonesome

The band’s musicianship is evident throughout the entire album, and this listener was pleasantly surprised by Mick Jagger’s vocals. Tracks such as  “Commit a Crime” and “Just Like I Treat You” suggest that Jagger’s voice is much better suited for blues music than rock ’n’ roll.

“Just Your Fool” starts the album off with a high tempo and energetic guitar. It sets the tone for the rest of the record.

“Commit a Crime” follows, written by Howlin’ Wolf, a hero for the Stones since their early days. This track about a femme fatale, a motif for The Rolling Stones’ songs, has incredibly strong drums and guitar, which mirrored Jagger’s powerful vocals.

The hero of this album, like much of the works released by the Stones, is drummer Charlie Watts. For decades, Watts has produced a sound that is distinctly his own, and that power and precision shine through on “I Gotta Go” and “Ride Em On Down.”

The latter is certainly the highlight of this album. Written by blues musician Eddie Taylor, “Ride ‘Em On Down” incorporates Jagger on harmonica, providing the track with a distinctive blues sound. Along with Watts’ drumming, the song also showcases the talent of guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood.

Despite having two lead guitarists, The Rolling Stones found a great balance that is evident in this album. They never ran into the problem that The Yardbirds had, with multiple lead guitarists fighting for the spotlight. Instead, “Ride ‘Em on Down” and “Just Like I Treat You” include small guitar jams that allow both guitarists to showcase their abilities.

Richards and Wood are not the only guitarists playing on this album, however. Former Yardbird Eric Clapton, who just released his latest album, I Still Do, in May this year, lent his talents to the Stones. Playing on the tracks “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” Clapton shows no signs of slowing down. Both tracks have incredibly strong guitar tracks and high tempos that build on the great energy of the album.

Clapton isn’t the only helpful addition to this album, though. Darryl Jones on bass guitar shined through on the track “All of Your Love,” along with Matt Clifford on keys in the same song. The keys break in the middle of the track made the song stand out.

Further, Jim Keltner played additional percussion on “Hoo Doo Blues.” Keltner is a renowned session musician, known for his work with the Traveling Wilburys, among several other artists. Given Watts’ talents on the drums, it seemed unnecessary at first for the Stones to bring in additional percussionists. However, after listening to the track, Keltner helped to add a sound that could only be done by Watts alone if they used multiple tracks. By not using multiple tracks, the Stones were able to keep the blues sound authentic.

While a strong album overall, there is one track that should have hit the cutting room floor. “Little Rain” seemed misplaced among the rest of the songs. It has a much slower tempo than the rest of the album, which in itself isn’t a bad thing. However, the slow guitar tracks seemed muddled, which was likely for effect. The guitar mixed with the tempo was distracting, and it failed to hold the listener's attention.

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The album ends on a high note with “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” another contribution from Clapton. With a moderate tempo, strong guitar, and surprisingly pleasant vocals from Jagger, the track nicely wraps up what was mainly a high energy album.

If Blue & Lonesome did anything, it proved that the Rolling Stones show no signs of slowing down, despite seeing their 50th anniversary last year. With this album, they went back to their roots without sounding dated. With all the talk about rock ’n’ roll dying out, the Stones proved that the roots are still breathing, and perhaps a rebirth of the genre is on its way.

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