Cross Eyed Heart is the third solo studio album from legendary Stones guitarist Keith Richards, it's an album that is Keith to it's core. It's rambunctious and rough hewn with a refreshing honesty and directness that takes some time to settle in but it doesn't take long. Richards has never been one for finesse or fads so if you are looking for something groundbreaking you won't find it on this record. Does every moment on this record work? In short no but it's honesty and passion for his musical roots makes this a remarkably cohesive album, no doubt helped by the production work of long time cohort Steve Jordan.
Richards' voice barely rises above a soft gravelly growl but there is a certain tenderness beneath the booze and smoke layers, especially on the reggae drenched Long Overdue even if it sounds like a pastiche. The title track sees Richards in familiar territory exploring his passion for the delta blues and channelling the great delta pioneer Robert Johnson. Where Richards shines is where he employs that earthy pathos, reflecting on his unique life, Nothing On Me is another one fingered salute to the authorities and establishment in general that have tried to silence him for years.
They ain't got nothing on me
They laid another charge
That's why I'm still at large
You know they watched me like a hawk
They even took me for a walk
They tried to make me squawk
Heartstopper has that raw energy that propelled some of the Stones' greatest work, not sure if he is commenting on his relationship with wife Patti,
My babe don't like me, but she loves me just the same
I just can't help it, it goes against the grain
But when she holds me something starts anew
She forgives me, and I forgive her too
She's vegetarian but me I love my meat
The plaintive piano led Robbed Blind hints at a more dangerous past, harking back to Richards more perilous activities,
Someone stole some money
Who it is, ain't exactly clear
Stolen from my honey
She holds my stash around here
The cops I can't involve them, they'd only interfere
So I hit the usual suspects but I drew a blank round there
Trouble is a highlight, just pure strut and funk with those familiar Keith Richards runs, so fluid and pulsing summoning the fret work of his hero Chuck Berry. This is where his backing band the Winos really kick things along Waddy Wachtel is a great foil filling the space with some very tasteful licks. Blues In The Morning is similar with a nice bluesy shuffle and some hinking sax from the late great Bobby Keyes who passed on not long after these sessions. Richards sounds enthusiatic and really carries this barnyard blues, his playing is dextruous and as raw as his days cranking out Chicago blues. Richards dips back into the bag for a faithful rendition of the Leadbelly Classic Goodnight Irene, his whisky soaked vocie has never found a better song. Cross Eyed closes with the southern soul infused Lover's Plea very much influenced by Otis Redding not sure if this is a cover, David Porter gets a songwriting credit. It sounds like it came out of McLemore Avenue from the horns to the Steve Cropper styled riffs. Cross Eyed Heart shows there is a still a lot of life in this old dog yet, and maybe some new tricks going forward.