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Stones at their finger stickin’ best

Sticky Fingers showcases the world’s most enduring band in the prime of their career.

Sticky Fingers showcases the world’s most enduring band in the prime of their career.
Source: Supplied

THIS week’s album reviews from The Courier-Mail (ratings out of five stars):

REISSUE

The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers

(Polydor) *****

Great records do not date: something in them cuts through time, genre, fashion. That’s Sticky Fingers, part of a five-star run of releases from the quintessential earthy rock’n’roll band, capturing their resurgence after the death of Brian Jones and the drafting of Mick Taylor on guitar.

Sticky Fingers is where Taylor really starts to sound at home. Check out his solos on Sway and the Can’t You Hear Me Knocking and you will see why so many thought he was the finest electric guitar player in rock’n’roll at that time. So much emotion and melody, such fluidity, all delivered with economy and precision.

But The Rolling Stones were never just about such great musicianship, although there were nights on stage and certainly on the albums from Beggar’s Banquet (1968) through to Exile On Main Street (1972) where they lived up to the challenge to be “the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world’’.

For a concise introduction to the band in the studio, you can’t do better than Sticky Fingers (the equally splendid but more sprawling Exile is best appreciated after sampling Sticky Fingers first).

Early CD technology didn’t present the Stones at their best, but this reissue, which arrives in a variety of formats, has all the richness and warmth their music demands.

It all still hangs together beautifully despite being recorded at various locations and finally being released in April 1971, more than 500 days after the first session (for Wild Horses) at Muscles Shoals studio in Alabama in the dying days of the ’60s.

The Stones were discerning music fans and those influences, from blues, to gospel, soul and country, combine with an unstoppable force on Sticky Fingers.

Mick Jagger probably never sang better on record and, for all the band’s celebrated looseness, they lock in here to create music that rocks and rolls with a sometimes gleeful intensity.

They also worked with the best and recorded at some of the finest studios.

The first side of the original vinyl album was produced by Jimmy Miller; the second by Glyn Johns: the results sparkle in a way that modern recording studios just can’t seem to replicate.

Guests add immaculate flourishes: Ry Cooder’s haunting slide guitar on Sister Morphine; Billy Preston’s organ breakout on I Got The Blues; Bobby Keys’ sax on Brown Sugar and his work as a brass section with trumpeter Jim Price; rollicking piano from Nicky Hopkins and their mate (and original band member) Ian Stewart; the string arrangements of Paul Buckmaster, most notably on the album’s soaring final track, Moonlight Mile. Drugs hang heavy in the air, in the lyrics and in their lifestyle, but the world-weariness they felt after nearly 10 years at the top is all part of the character that makes the album special.

All serious Rolling Stones fans and most fans of rock’n’roll in general probably own the thing several times over, so it will be the bonus tracks that sway them to pay out again.

The extras on the deluxe edition are certainly tempting: a take on Brown Sugar with lashing slide guitar (presumably from Mick Taylor) and solo by Eric Clapton; an acoustic version of Wild Horses; alternate versions of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking and Dead Flowers (faster, less “country’’, a pointer to how they would sound on Exile), plus five tracks with the band in fine form at a show at the Roundhouse in London in 1971, including an 11-minute Midnight Rambler.

There’s danger in the air, and joy too. Of all the great blues bands that emerged from London in the ’60s, The Rolling Stones soared highest and furthest. If you don’t know why, here’s the place to find out.

Noel Mengel

ELECTRONIC

Hermitude, Dark Night Sweet Light

(Elefant Traks) ****

Luke Dubber, aka Luke Dubs, and Angus Stuart, aka El Gusto, have been making music together for 21 years, with five albums since their recording debut in 2002. In 2012 they enjoyed mainstream popularity when Flume remixed their track, HyperParadise.
This album continuestheir ascent with a winning mixofelectronica, hip-hop, dubstep and production techniques borrowed from other electronic styles. First track Hijinx treats the listener to chopped-up beats and a soaring melody. Thru the Roof features cool Latin-style rhythms and rhymes bolted to a big dubstep-style synth, while the chilled out Ukyio’s atmospheric pads and down-tempo beats are sure to make it on to a few chill-out collections. Searchlight is one of the standout tracks with a hip-hop/dubstep vibe and includes the popular detuned or slowed-down vocals now popular in deep house. Hazy Love features the ethereal voice of Chloe Kaul. Another standout is
the catchy hook of The Buzz.

Hermitude play the Metropolitan, Brisbane, on June 27.

Khan Tihema

SOUL

Melody Gardot, Currency of Man

(Decca) ****1/2

Gardot’s new album soundsamazing. You don’t read that in many reviews in 2015, probably because so many of them are written from low-quality streams or soundfiles. But, even on earbuds, the soul-flavoured Currency Of Man can lift you higher and, cranked through a decent set of speakers, the effect is impressive. Engineer Maxime Le Guil creates a rich soundstage for the instruments, such as the baritone sax, brass section and strings that frame It Gonna Come. The hymn-like Morning Sun radiates hope: you can hear all those Nina Simone albums Gardot must have been soaking up. Preacherman is fervent R & B while Don’t Misunderstand burns on a slow fire. The near seven-minute If Ever I Recall Your Face features a sublime string arrangement by Clement Ducol, and the orchestrations throughout are delivered with the precision you would expect from a first-rate film composer. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and the city’s underbelly influenced Gardot’s writing. No Hollywood tinsel fairytales here.

Noel Mengel

COUNTRY

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, The Traveling Kind

(Warner) ****1/2

Harmony singing has been at the core of Harris’s music, as it is at the heart of most great country. Harris was first widely heard as Gram Parsons’ harmony singer and she has collaborated successfully with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton and Mark Knopfler, as well as singing harmonies on records beyond count. Crowell played in Harris’s band as she launched her solo career (and wrote her early classic Bluebird Wine). That they have reunited 40 years later is a joy to them and the listener: The Traveling Kind is even better than 2013’s Grammy-winning Old Yellow Moon. Clarity and sincerity is at the forefront of country songwriting and each of these 11 tunes burns bright, from the familiar sentiments of No Memories Hanging ‘Round to the Louisiana pleasures of La Danse De La Joie. The title tune is their story (“We don’t all die young to save our spark/From the ravages of time’’), the ghost of Gram and absent friends at their shoulders. This world is filled with sorrows and ghosts, these songs say, but with a song in our hearts we can make our way. Pure joy.

Noel Mengel

ROOTS

Marlon Williams, Marlon Williams

(Caroline) ****

Some artists sound wise way beyond their years. That’s Williams, a New Zealander who has already packed a lot of living into his 23 years, with acting, bands and now this solo album. When I Was A Young Girl could be an Odetta song, as Tim Buckley or Tom Rush might have delivered it in a New York folk club in ’66. Williams’s jaw-dropping breath control creates an ethereal delivery backed just by an acoustic guitar and that’s all that song needs. Yet nothing about this album feels like it is merely rehashing past glories as Williams finds interesting settings for some familiar forms. His voice soars across the hot bluegrass picking of Hello Miss Lonesome; After All is gritty country-rock. Lost Without You features ‘60s-style voices and strings but then introduces a prominent synthesiser; Silent Passage is a stirring folk ballad with sweet fiddle and pedal steel. But pick of the bunch is Dark Child, with Williams taking on the voice of an older character and the band hovering with an intensity to match the foreboding of the lyric. Fans of Richard Hawley, and Roy Orbison too, inquire within.

Noel Mengel

CLASSICAL

Dimitri Shostakovich, Shostakovich Plays Shostakovich

(Warner Classics) ****1/2

Who better to interpret a composer’s music than the composer himself? In this digitally remastered, two-disc set of selected works by Dimitri Shostakovich, this Russian composer displays his distinctive grasp of what his music is about. When he was a soloist for the 1933 recording of his Concerto for piano, trumpet and strings in C minor opus 35 recorded with Ludovic Vaillant (trumpet) and André Cluytens conducting Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, the music sparked at full force. The immediacy and clarity of his playing highlighted the contrasting shadings of Piano Concerto No 1 in F opus 102 recorded in 1957 with the same band. Cello Sonata opus 40 recorded in 1934 with another Russian great, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, is delivered with an anguished vigour. Disc two takes a solo path, full of Shostakovich’s urgent energy, through Three Fantastic Pieces opus 5 (1922) and nine of his Preludes and Fugues opus 87 (1950-1951), a rich legacy very special to Shostakovich devotees and hopefully to those yet to discover this treasury.

Patricia Kelly

Hot Chip

ELECTRONIC

Hot Chip, Why Make Sense?

(Domino) ****

Hot Chip are a feast for the ears, even if dance music isn’t normally your bag. They’re steeped in electronica yet have mainstream appeal in the same way as New Order and Pet Shop Boys. This is due mainly to the catchy melodies and harmonies that shine through the walls of synth, as well as the R & B, funk and disco beats that come to the fore on this latest effort. They retain that human touch in an age of automation, and on the opening Huarache Lights, the line “Replace us with the things that do the job better” eventually turns robotic. There are rappy moments too, such as De La Soul’s Posdnuos guesting on Love is the Future. Alexis Taylor’s Jimmy Somerville-like fragile falsetto adds authenticity to the angst and vulnerability of the lyrics. White Wine and Fried Chicken is a quiet celebration of finding a new home and heart. The closing title track is the pay-off, a thumping industrial number that asks: “Why make sense when the world around refuses?” This record is a slower grower than predecessor In Our Heads, and while even more heavily synthesised, it maintains that crossover appeal.

John O’Brien


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