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SATISFYING: New "Chicago Plays The Stones" album features Windy City blues legends covering Stones tunes

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ALBUM REVIEW: Chicago Plays The Stones by The Living History Band and Various Artists (Raisin’ Music Records) 2018

As I noted in my recent review of Buddy Guy’s fantastic new album The Blues Is Alive and Well, Guy had collaborated with two members of The Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – on two different songs on the record (“You Did The Crime” and “Cognac,” respectively), indicating a renewed interest in how Chicago-based, electric blues performers like Guy have long respected the Stones, and vice-versa.  

Just listen to the Stones’ blues-heavy, recent Blue & Lonesome album, with Chicago blues covers throughout. Mutual admiration!

So, when I heard Guy’s cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” on B.B. King’s Bluesville channel on SiriusXM recently, I was stunned at how good it was, quite possibly superior to the 1973 original. It’s raw and honest and powerful.

In any event, I had to track down this version – and I did, as it appears on a terrific, “musical love letter” to the Stones, simply titled Chicago Plays The Stones, featuring different Chicago blues singers performing 12 different Stones songs with backing from the Living History Band, which includes guitarist Bob Margolin (who played with Muddy Waters); pianist Johnny Iguana; blues-harp by Vincent Bucher; bassist Felton Crews and drummer Kenny ‘Beedy-Eyes’ Smith.

And yes, the Stones have had a link to the Chicago blues scene since their inception, with the highly influential Muddy Waters, known as the “father of modern Chicago blues,” having embraced the young British blues rockers who included the Beatles as peers on the music scene of the 1960’s.

As I said, Buddy Guy tears up “Heartbreaker” like nobody’s business, with Jagger providing his signature harmonica playing and the lyrics, though 45 years old, being timely as ever, particularly for a city like Chicago.

But Billy Boy Arnold’s cover of “Play With Fire,” a dark, chamber-pop song originally released by The Stones in 1965, gets a more rousing and accusatory take by Arnold, a blues luminary in the Windy City.

As for “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Ronnie Baker Brooks lights up this classic rock number with soul and attitude the song has always offered.

But it is Billy Branch’s cover of the Stones’ 1968 song “Sympathy for the Devil” that really takes things to the next level of bluesy, boastful authenticity. And Branch is entirely confident and comfortable in his vocal role (and on harmonica, as well) telling a historical tale from the Devil’s perspective.

When Branch sings “Just as every cop is a criminal / and all the sinners saints / As heads is tails, just call me Lucifer / Cause I’m in need of some restraint,” it’s spooky. And a song with a very “crossroad-ian” origin, no doubt about it.

John Primer, a respected guitarist on the Chicago blues scene, takes the vocal lead on the Stones’ ballad “Angie,” which is given some down-n-dirty treatment at the hands of Primer and the Living History Band, appropriately enough. Johnny Iguana’s piano playing really adds a layer of cool here, I should add.

And while women provided the gospel-vocals-at-the-apocalypse backing vocals on “Gimme Shelter” back in the day, it’s a woman – Chicago blues/gospel singer and local legend Leanne Faine – who handles the lead vocal on this song is powerful and moving.

Mississippi-born Jimmy Burns offers an almost-playful-with-a-wink version of “Beast of Burden,” a song that also features Keith Richards on slide guitar, while Vincent Bucher blows away on that blues harp.

A cousin of Magic Sam, Mike Avery, whose blues roots clearly run deep, takes a stab at the Stones’ disco-era classic “Miss You,” with results that are mixed. The percussion is different and Avery’s vocals are strong, but oddly restrained.

Two 1990’s-era Stones songs – “I Go Wild” and “Out of Control,” from ‘94’s Voodoo Lounge and ‘97’s Bridges to Babylon, respectively – are performed by harp-player Omar Coleman and Carlos Johnson. Coleman does go a bit wild with this performance. So glad he had his harmonica handy.

And Carlos Johnson’s version of  “Out of Control” is the sort of song that you stop and pay attention to. His commanding vocal style demands that you listen. This is one of the best songs featured in this collection. In fact, as I listened to it, I could hear Shemekia Copeland’s new hit “Ain’t Got Time For Hate.” Copeland, daughter of the late Texas blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland.

Closing out Chicago Plays The Stones is “Dead Flowers” (originally appearing on 1971’s Sticky Fingers) by Jimmy Burns, who appears twice in this collection. While I prefer Townes Van Zandt’s cover (which is heard in The Big Lebowski), it’s an appealing closer to a particularly satisfying, Stones-centric blues collection.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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