IT MIGHT BE TEMPTING to dismiss Blue & Lonesome, the Rolling Stones’ new CD of blues cover versions, as minimal effort expended for maximum gain. After all, its 12 songs were all written by Chicago bluesmen in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, not by the Stones, and the band recorded the entire album in just three days, with no overdubs (the title track was done in one take).
But with these raw, unpolished recordings, the Stones sound the most sincere they have for a long time. You hear the band playing live in the studio, but they might as well be performing at the smoky Checkerboard Lounge on Chicago’s South Side.
Four of the songs, including the title track, were originally recorded by Little Walter, and the galloping beat of his “I Gotta Go” is a highlight of the album. Other tunes simmer in a minor-key blues dirge, like “All of Your Love” by Magic Sam.
Blue & Lonesome also covers Howlin’ Wolf (“Commit a Crime”), Little Johnny Taylor (“Everybody Knows About My Good Thing”), Eddie Taylor (“Ride ’Em On Down”), Lightnin’ Slim (“Hoo Doo Blues”), and Jimmy Reed (“Little Rain”).
The final two tracks are Willie Dixon songs— “Just Like I Treat You” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” the last with lead guitar by Eric Clapton, who happened to be working in the studio next door.
The Stones are all in their 70s now (or close—Ronnie Wood is 69), and have returned to the passion for Chicago blues music that first inspired them more than half a century ago.