The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street is a joyous ode to the beauty of American rock and roll, perhaps this description sells the record short. It's a tribute to a bygone era from the rough and ready sounds of rhythm and blues to the dirty Louisiana swamps and across the dusty backroads of country blues. The album in true Stones style is raw and passionate, they tell it like it is as they have always done. The album starts off in typical raunchy fashion Rocks Off features one of those typical scratchy Keith Richards riffs, alongside some funky piano playing from session ace Nicky Hopkins during the verses. Rip This Joint keeps that rock and roll spirit alive Jagger screams 'gonna raise hell at the union hall' he could be singing about a southern dancehall on a Saturday night. The superb Bobby Keys supplies the honkin sax solo drawing on his early influences growing up in Lubbock Texas.
Down deeper into South Louisiana the Stones do a stripped down version of Slim Harpo's Shake Your Hips, the first three tracks of the album establish the feeling that it's very much a Keith Richards album v ery focused on the rhythm and deeply ensconsed in traditional American music. The influence of Gram Parsons on the sessions adds a country flavour to the album Sweet Virginia with it's lazy harp opening and the drums just drifting behind the beat, that looseness continues on Torn and Frayed with some nice piano work from Nicky Hopkins. I've always been a little critical of Mick Jaggers voice, to me it always seems like he's over reaching trying to attain something that is always beyond his reach. His best performance is on Tumbling Dice the exaggerated vocal cadences seem to work it has a great vibe to it that idea of just going with the flow and not really caring about how things roll, a typical stones philosophy. Richards continues that theme on Happy relating on how his best laid plans always went astray but deep down there was that ever present desire for love and contentment, but always on his own terms.
All Down The Line has a pumping sublime bass line from and I'm assuming it's Bill Wyman playing on that track, Mick Taylor features heavily with some wiry slide guitar. It must have been incredibly difficult for both Wyman and Taylor, two creative musicians who contributions were often muted by the gigantic personalities and egos of Richards and Jagger. I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of Bill Wyman a very sturdy player but capable of really complex syncopated rhythms. Shine a Light heads down the gospel road with some very dense organ work form Billy Preston, the Stones are more than capable of capturing the raw approach of gospel. Exile on Main Street was the Stones recording a record on their own terms and that is something they didn't always do, I think when Jagger had periods of self doubt about the band he looked to the latest trends to stake their claim and it never seemed to work, Satanic Majesties Request being a prime example. The Stones have always been a bit hit or miss but when they were focused on reading from the same book they were an unstoppable rock and roll band. They were the true embodiment of it, they embraced all aspects of rock music and created something that was true to the spirit and ethos of the founding fathers.