Some would say the Rolling Stones’ original Exile On Main Street was their last consistently good album. Most of the songs were an ad hoc combination of Mick Jagger’s lyrical nothings, Keith Richards’ ridiculously catchy riffs and the inventive embellishments of the underrated, undercredited and under-replaced Mick Taylor, all earthed by the Wyman-Watts rhythm section. The performance and production were sloppy, but the band’s ability and inspiration transcended that to make what was nevertheless a fine album.
Now Telarc have repeated the feat they previously carried out with the Beatles’ White Album and Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde and given ten of this album’s best songs to some of the label’s blues stars for their own interpretations. Again the musical foundation is Brian Stoltz on guitar and the Double Trouble rhythm section of Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums.
This is a good solid album and the quality stays high for all 50 minutes. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Deborah Coleman’s vocal on “Happy” is an improvement on Keith’s, but most of the singers on the other tracks sound like Mick would if he only could. Particular highlights for me were Lucky Peterson’s version of “Ventilator Blues”, Tommy Castro’s “Rip This Joint”, Joe Louis Walker’s “Shine A Light” and Jimmy Thackery’s “Rocks Off”, and Jeff Lang’s “Sweet Virginia” is done solo and well, with an engaging intimacy that sounds as if he just sat down in the studio and did it first time. An added bonus is that some of the words sound a lot more acceptable from these singers than on the original. Coming from Jagger they sounded at best patronising and at worst racist, whereas here they sound comparatively inoffensive. It’s also nice to see that Telarc have returned to Slim Harpo the full credit for writing “Shake Your Hips” (done here by Tab Benoit) after Jagger and Richards had claimed to be his co-writers. (Still, at least they didn’t do as they did with “Love In Vain” and deny all knowledge of Robert Johnson, preferring to list it as trad. and claiming all the royalties themselves. But that’s another story).
This CD has introduced me to a few names I was unfamiliar with but whom I will look out for again – Christine Ohlman (who does full justice to “All Down The Line”), Otis and Cassie Taylor (“Sweet Black Angel”) and Andrea Re (strange to hear a woman singing “Tumbling Dice” but after a few plays Jagger is a memory).
The album’s page on Telarc’s website is at http://www.telarc.com/gscripts/title.asp?gsku=3571, where you can hear clips from each track.
If you liked the original “Exile On Main Street” you will probably enjoy this for similar reasons – its informality, its rootsiness, its spontaneity. If you didn’t like the original, try this anyway. All of the performances are sound and, while it obviously owes a great deal to what the Stones accomplished in 1972, some of them actually improve on the originals.
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