BLUE & LONESOME The Rolling Stones (Polydor/ Universal) *****
More than 50 years on The Rolling Stones have come full circle and gone back to the blues, where they started out. In his biography, Keith Richards said, at that time, all they wanted to do was become a great Chicago blues band, and all these years of fame and rock & roll excess later, by God they nailed it.
Over 50 years in the making, Blue & Lonesome was recorded in just 3 days. They started by playing the blues of Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, Eddie Taylor, Little Walter and Howlin’ Wolf, artists whose songs are represented on the new album too. “They bring a lifetime of experience to the songs, with greater depth than they could have achieved when they were younger” says producer Don Was in the liner notes, “but without losing any of the reckless abandon with which they played this music in their youth.”
Produced by Was along with Mick and Keith, Blue & Lonesome has the sound and feel of a blues record from the 50’s or 60’s, a patina of authenticity that surprised me. Jagger blows some outstanding harp, and drummer Charlie Watts along with bassist Darryl Jones expertly set the groove for each track. “It’s not technical, it’s emotional” Charlie says in the liners. “One of the hardest things of all is to get that feeling across.” You won’t find much in the way of wanky solos here, but there’s some great stuff from Keith and Ronnie and guitar, and sweet keyboards by Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford.
Keith once said (and it’s repeated in the liner notes) that “If you don’t know the blues, there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music”, and he’s right. Though the blues are at the base of everything The Rolling Stones have ever done make no mistake, this is a straight up blues album- nothing more and nothing less. If you only like their big hits this might not tickle your fancy, but I can’t imagine a Stones fan not adding Blue & Lonesome to their collection.
ESSENTIAL: Hate To See You Go, Everybody Knows, Blue And Lonesome
CAB DRIVING MAN Mississippi Heat (Delmark) *** ¾
This is the band’s 12th album overall and 6th for Delmark, an upbeat blues album that’s almost downright jolly sounding. Led by Pierre Lacocque’s nimble harmonica, Cab Driving Man is ready to show you a good time.
Though a blues album, this one is surprisingly diverse as it takes you from Chicago and Delta blues to spirited boogies, Latin beats and R&B ballads. With excellent musicianship and superior attention to the groove, this set of blues is a vivacious and entertaining trip. Barry Kernzer of American Blues Scene calls Cab Driving Man “a veritable blues smorgasbord to your ears, from Cotton Club Cab Calloway to the blues of NOLA party dens, boogie-woogie to Cajun”… sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It is.
Cab Driving Man has 16 tracks in all, including Good Thing, originally by Fontella Bass & Bobby McClure, and Sarah Vaughan’s Smooth Operator. If you’re new to the band, there’s an enjoyable and informative essay about them on the inner sleeve by Greg Easterling of WSRV in Chicago, the band’s hometown. Recorded in just 2 days and produced by Pierre Lacocque and Steve Wagner, this is a great sounding record that will lift you up when you really need it… cool stuff.
ESSENTIALS: The Last Go Round, Flowers On My Tombstone, Smooth Operator
TAKIN’ & GIVIN’ Levee Town (independent) ****
Here is Levee Town’s 6th long player, a collection of light hearted blues with the occasional country flair, songs that bounce and glide along, Takin’ & Givin’ goes from fast swing to Texas shuffles while staying anchored in the blues- it’s pretty excellent.
This disc is different from your average blues record- it’s many different styles of blues and/or blues related music, played with jazz chops. Not content to just regurgitate an old form of music, Levee Town inject these numbers (13 original, 1 cover) with a Kansas City flair (that’s their hometown) that makes this just plain fun to listen to. High Flyin’ Mama combines an irresistible funk bass line with some Albert Collins-style lead breaks and some Hammond B-3 that just makes you shout “Yeah!”!
The house band for Kansas City’s famous Knucklehead Saloon, Levee Town has been playing shows relentlessly for the last 14 years all over the U.S. and Canada, one-off gigs and festivals. There’s a relaxed grace and casual precision in the playing on Takin’ & Givin’ that you’ll find thoroughly enjoyable, a vibe that makes you think these guys would be a blast to see live. The production on this disc is dry and well balanced, and I think my stereo likes it as much as I do. Takin’ & Givin’ is very groovy.
ESSENTIALS: Kansas City Women, Letter To My Baby, I’m Gone
24K MAGIC Bruno Mars (Warner) ***
Bruno Mars’ new album is here, just in time for the holiday gift giving season… but is it worth getting excited about? That all depends on your point of view.
Mars is his generation’s Michael Jackson and the title track certainly supports that, sounding like an upbeat throwaway from Mike’s Dangerous record. He certainly has an ear for catchy melody lines, moreso than his contemporaries, and his attention to detail is admirable. In many respects this sounds like ‘just another dance album’ to me, yet even I have to admit that Bruno’s new set has a way of making you smile and feel good without even realizing your foot has started tapping.
For most artists in a music scene devolving back into a singles market, selling a whole album could be problematic- but with 9 cuts and only 3 cracking the 4 minute mark, Mars is well aware that he is playing to a group with a short attention span and has constructed 24K accordingly. Lyrically this seems to be typical pop fluff, and that’s okay… this stuff was made for twenty-somethings, not guys in their late 50’s.
24K is well produced but, in an effort to fit into the current pop music market, sounds a little cliché. I love Bruno’s voice and always have, but the washy keyboard sounds, usual percussion samples and his trademark “Oooo” seem a bit ‘tired’. And when the first track started with an auto-tune vocal, my skin crawled.
Ultimately 24K is an amusing little pop confection, and if you like Mars’s previous stuff- some of which I enjoy VERY much- then you’ll enjoy this too. Isn’t that enough?
ESSENTIALS: Perm, Too Good To Say Goodbye, That’s What I Like
OLD SCHOOL Si Cranstoun (Ruf) ***
He’s not kidding, folks. Richard Thorpe from Hear Me Roar calls Si the “Bruno Mars of the vintage scene and Croydon’s answer to Sam Cooke.” If vintage sounds are you thing, the Si Cranstoun’s Old School is for you.
When I first threw this on, scenes from American Graffiti danced through my noggin. Si’s formative influences are on bold display here; Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke and Big Joe Turner. “When it comes to taste” he says, “it’s 40’s, 50’s, 60’s all the way”, and he’s not kidding around. If you walked into a room and this was playing, you’d think it was a jolly record from the late 50’s playing. The only thing that might tip you off otherwise is the lyrics. “It’s true to who I am and the rocking rhythm ‘n’ blues that stirs my soul” Cranstoun declares, “but all the songs have a quirky slant and they all originate from my colorful mind.”
Old School has am irresistible energy as the musicians involved jump, jive and wail their way back to the time of sock hops and drive-ins. Not only are the songs are written and performed in that style, Si produced them that way too. “Because I’ve been so ‘hands on’ with the recording of these songs” he recalls, “they’ve all been a giant learning experience into the art of capturing the spirit of that ‘yesterday’ sound.”
Old School’s appeal is quite narrow, however, because of all this. If you’re into that late 50’s/ early 60’s vibe, this disc will speak to you. Otherwise, not so much.
ESSENTIALS: Vegas Baby, Around Midnight, Lover Please