Various Artists
Paint It, Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones
House of Blues 51416 13152
First, let's face facts: Unless you're 12 years old and paying attention for the first time, the songs of the Rolling Stones have become fossilized. Cast in stone. Rendered impotent by three decades of repetition on classic-rock radio. What were once generational anthems have become nothing more than background, ambient sounds that drift, aimlessly, through the playlists of oldies stations. When was the last time you actually paid attention to the words of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction?" or "You Can't Always Get What You Want"? Twenty years? Thirty? And though the Stones are on the road again, they're nothing more than another big-dollar nostalgia act -- new album or not -- these days.

That's what makes Paint It, Blue such a revelation. Instead of the usual formula (grunge/punk acts trotting out speed-metal tributes), someone was inspired enough to get blues artists to perform the songs of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Hearing them again through the eyes of some of the artists the nascent Stones were listening to loosens the words and riffs from the mausoleums of repetition. The Stones, especially early on, were fond of covering their heroes -- Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Marvin Gaye -- and now they're having the favor returned.

The first two tracks have particular poignancy. Luther Allison, who died at age 58 on August 11 (after being diagnosed a month earlier with cancer) opens with a rewarding version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want." And Johnny Copeland, who succumbed to heart problems July 3 at age 60, reminds us with "Tumblin' Dice" that when it comes to living and dying, we're all rolling those dice and hoping they don't come up snake eyes before our time. (Don't miss young Derek Trucks' slashing slide guitar on this one.)

Another good choice is Junior Wells (who's battling lymphoma and a recent heart attack himself), who takes "Satisfaction" back to its roots, reminding us of the Stones' early championing of Chicago blues, the sound they were striving for on their early records. Joe Louis Walker wails like Otis Redding reincarnate on a rejuvenated "Heart of Stone."

Taj Mahal turns "Honky Tonk Women" into an acoustic Delta blues, one step beyond the Stones' own "Country Honk" rewrite, with James Cotton adding his harmonica to Taj's banjo. And though "Wild Horses" is hardly a blues song, Otis Clay gives it the special touch of his gospel voice.

Alvin "Youngblood" Hart, who was born in 1963, about the time the Stones were beginning to play together, gets two chances, hitting a hot rock groove on "Sway" and giving "Moonlight Mile" its proper quotient of spookiness. Bobby Womack does a gritty take of his own "It's All Over Now," returning the favor the Stones did him when they had a hit with it in 1964.

Not all of it works. Lucky Peterson seems a bit uncomfortable with "Under My Thumb," and Larry McCray doesn't seem to have much feel for "Midnight Rambler." But if, like me, the prospect of another Stones tour and album is about as appealing as tofu and soft-boiled eggs, Paint It Blue serves to remind us how good those old songs really were.

-- Leland Rucker

This page and all contents are © 1998 by Blues Access,
Boulder, CO, USA.