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The Rolling Stones are arguably the longest-running rock group in the world. Formed in London in 1962, the grop remained extremely prolific throughout the first three decades of their career but following the release of their twenty-second album A Bigger Bang in 2005 they would fall silent for the next seven years, before finally returning to the road in 2012 for their 50 & Counting Tour. But many believed that they had released their last album and had that been true, A Bigger Bang would have proved a fitting swan song. But now the Rolling Stones are back with a new album, their first in nine years, that features the legendary act covering classic songs from an array of blues artists that includes Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim. Blue & Lonesome is the most stripped-down and raw offering the group have delivered since the early 1970s and arguably harkens back their early output when the Rolling Stones pioneered British blues rock.
First emerging during the last days of rock ‘n’ roll, the Rolling Stones incorporated that sound with American blues to create something new and exciting, a style that would later inspire early punk acts like the Stooges and the New York Dolls. After a long era of inconsistency, the Rolling Stones finally found their identity once again in the ’00s and now with Blu & Lonesome they have come full circle. The development of the new album began in December 2015 when they had reconvened in Chiswick’s British Grove Studios where founder Mark Knopfler, recorded last year’s Tracker, to work on new material. Struggling to find a direction they were comfortable with they began to jam, initially with a rendition of an old blues song called Blue & Lonesome.‘We cut that, we listened to it back and suddenly the sound is there,’ guitarist Keith Richards recently told the Guardian. ‘Mick (Jagger) turns round and says, ‘I wanna do this Howlin’ Wolf song’ and then he says, ‘And I’d like to do this Lightnin’ Slim’ and now I’ve got the man on a roll. When you’ve got the lead man calling the shots and saying, ‘I want to do that, I want to do this,’ keep the tape rolling.’ In a new article with the Sun, Jagger explained the inspiration behind releasing an album of cover songs. ‘This album is a homage to our favourites, the people that kicked us off. They were the reason we started a band,’ he says. ‘It was very raunchy compared to most pop music. It spoke to direct experience and the sounds were more vibrant, the rhythms more interesting and more danceable. It had an instant appeal. For my generation, it was the equivalent of suburban white kids doing rap.’
In an interview with Rolling Stone in November Jagger added, ‘The thing about the blues is it changes in very small increments. People reinterpret what they know – Elmore James reinterpreted Robert Johnson licks, as did Muddy Waters. So I’m not saying we’re making the jumps that they made, but we can’t help but reinterpret these songs.’ Richards’ enthusiasm for the record was evident during the same interview when he declared, ‘This is the best record Mick Jagger has ever made,” says Richards, always a fan of Jagger’s emotive harmonica playing, which flourishes on the new LP. “It was just watching the guy enjoying doing what he really can do better than anybody else…And also the band ain’t too shabby.’