Fifty two years ago the Rolling Stones debuted with their self-titled album. It was full of blues covers (there was just one original song) and gave a preview of what was to come.
Now, 11 years after their last studio album, they’re releasing what may be their last album. “Blue and Lonesome” is a genius idea: a dozen covers of blues standards that hearken back to the Stones’ origins. The songs are by the same heroes they had in 1964: Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, Little Walter. And Eric Clapton, their comrade in arms, is featured on two of the tracks.
If this is the end, then it’s the best ending anyone could have dreamed. Mick Jagger sounds as fresh as he did in 1964, and the band is just as tight. You kind of know Keith Richards curated this collection. He was smart to ditch another album of Rolling Stones soundalike songs and just go back to the roots. No one appreciated American blues like the Stones, the sound informs their best records. So on “Blue and Lonesome,” it’s like wiping away the layers of dust and finding that original burnished wood.
Will kids understand this now? Probably not. Fans of modern pop only know the processed cheese they’re fed on the radio. “Blue and Lonesome” is a gift to the adults. I’m loving Willie Dixon’s “Just Like I Treat You” and Magic Sam’s “All of Your Love.” I am reveling in Clapton’s solos on “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” and digging the harmonicas, the rolling piano solos. Clapton is also featured on the big finale, Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” the longest track on the album that showcases everyone. Is this the end? The last track sums up the 52 years.
So here’s what you do: after “Tattoo You” skip to the live album “Stripped,” and then to “Blue and Lonesome.” Those other albums– Steel Wheels, et al– they aren’t necessary. We finally have a meaningful end to the story.