Reviewed by: Geno Thackara
Who’da thunk it. After all this time, one of the baddest of rock and roll’s bad boys has practically become a warm and kindly grandfatherly figure. Where he once wrote “Before They Make Me Run” in real-life desperation while facing a career-threatening drug bust, today’s sort-of followup “Nothing on Me” is slyly confident that any trouble is just going to bounce off him without sticking. It’s easy to sound assured when that wild past is far in the rearview and not on the verge of catching up anymore. Over two decades since we last heard from Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos, they’re showing a comfortable familiarity from the first note. Cue up Crosseyed Heart (with chilled beverage of choice) and you’re settled into that perfect cozy position on a couch listening to them heartily jam the evening away.
He starts off with a semi-tricky eight-bar blues suited to a gentle porch swing, a short and sweet solo that doesn’t reach the two-minute mark before he cuts off and mutters, “well, that’s all I got.” At the other end things wind down with a rustic chorus of voices and an old-timey country lullaby. In between he visits all his long-loved touchstones: blues, Americana, reggae, soul and more blues, offering those distinct electric R&B grooves that have made him such a fixture all our lives, and often with more sparking-hot dirty licks than someone really has a right to pull off at his age. The band cooks nicely on rockers like “Trouble” or “Amnesia,” while Richards handles the quieter tunes well with raspy-voiced heart. His duet with Norah Jones on “Illusion” makes a nice highlight, as smoky and soulful as it was unexpected.
I wasn’t kidding about the jamming – the pieces were developed by the band in the studio rather than written out beforehand. Maybe the words go over well-worn familiar ground. Someone might slip up or come in a beat too early from time to time. You could complain that the songs are often based on simple groove patterns and/or fade out rather than coming to a definite end, but that would probably be missing the point. For this group it’s all about the spark of playing and connecting.
Ultimately, I suppose the fact that it’s Keef already tells you everything you need to know. We know what he does and know that he’s doing it out of love. He wasn’t going to become a cranky old man scaring the kids off his lawn (and anyway, those kids are 53 years old themselves by now). He’s aging more gracefully than most of us would have expected, and the results are a treat to hear.