Keith Richards is loose and in the groove on Crosseyed Heart
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The mental image created is of a guitar in the corner of a room. There are couple of chairs, a coffee table with books, papers and ashtrays scattered across, a few pens, a drink off the coaster and sweating onto the wooden surface. Its in this setting that Keith Richards saunters into view, picks up the guitar and starts picking and strumming. After a little while, he begins to sing, and not long after that, he has a song.
Call up the band, repeat this 14 more times and Crosseyed Heart is born, Richards’ third solo act and his first since 1992’s Main Offender. In the 23 years between, there have been tours and albums with his primary focus, the Rolling Stones, along with a couple of books and the countless interviews dotting the space between. The point is that when Richards commits to making a solo album, it’s because he’s feeling an abundance of energy, of grooves and eventually songs bubbling just under the surface come to the surface in a form just south of polished.
All the music that comes out of Richards these days are both homages to the music that inspired him originally and unique interpretations of those classics. The documentary Under the Influence that was released to Netflix the same day as the record furthers this commitment to the exploration of the guitar and the American roots and English folk that all melds together in his hands. But even without the visual document, Crosseyed Heart would be enough of a testament to Richards’ unending and uncanny grasp of the groove.
And here it is, practically an hour of that groove in its various states. He churns along on some acoustic blues, slows down the tempo, riffs and speeds it back up and occasionally takes detours into reggae. Apart from “Amnesia,” clearly his recounting of the 2006 incident where he fell off a branch and hit his skull, it’s all done without an overarching theme beyond exploring the music and the sounds that still resonate within.
Where he lacks in Mick Jagger’s ability to craft lyrics from outside the norm, he more than makes up for in exploring riffs and rhythms and keeping it all interesting. He can, of course, craft a song from start to finish with the best of them. Songs like “Trouble” and “Heartstopper” are paced like the best of the Stones’ latter-day rockers and aren’t lacking for evidence.
But he’s always liked his ballads, and he enjoys slowing the tempo and exploring the room in the song. “Robbed Blind” sounds like the worthy successor to some of his standout solo moments on the Stones’ recent records, and he plays a welcoming host to Norah Jones on “Illusion.” The closing “Lover’s Plea” sounds like it was cut with the Stax house band. And there’s his obvious love for the blues, too, with his take on Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene” and the opening “Crosseyed Heart,” an off-the-cuff acoustic tribute to Robert Johnson and the delta blues that started his lifelong obsession.
Of course, there’s the loose rock and roll, a style to which he practically gave birth. “Substantial Damage” was made for Steve Jordan’s confident, strutting drums, and Keith cooly walks right through them, humming, rasping and riffing. “Blues in the Morning” is a Chuck Berry driven classic that sounds as if it were born right on the spot, lyrics and all, every rough note and jagged riff falling right out and into place with minimal effort, maximum soul and not a moment of hesitation. Thank god the tape was rolling.
Crosseyed Heart, then, is to eavesdrop on Keith while he does what he loves. There’s a casual nature that has long been absent on the Rolling Stones’ studio work, and with no pressure and no expectations, he just turns it up, kicks it down and lets it flow. If it’s not a collection of greatest hits, instead its the sound of the man just playing what he wants to play with complete freedom and confidence. It’s as satisfying a listen as anything, and its just more evidence that Richards hears and translates music on his own wavelength.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org