There’s no reason this thing should be as good as it is.
Keith Richards has nothing left to prove to anyone, and much like his Rolling Stones have been doing quite effectively over the past few decades, he could easily just take another victory lap and ride off into the sunset like the elegant rogue character he has spent the past 50 years perfecting. The Stones haven’t made a wholly great studio album since “Some Girls” back in 1978, although 1994’s “Voodoo Lounge” came close. The first solo album from “Keef” in 23 years? Probably a phoned-in affair, a collection of half-finished retreads of past glories.
Except that “Crosseyed Heart” is anything but that. In fact, it’s sharp, crisp, brimming with ideas – most of them old and weathered, sure, but so what? – and suffused with the grime and grit of the best Stones music.
Richards, with longtime compatriots drummer Steve Jordan, guitarist Waddy Wachtel and keyboardist Ivan Neville, brought strong songs to the table this time around, every one of them boasting a memorable hook, and each sung in his gruff, gravelly but somehow still tender smoker’s cough of a voice.
Events commence with Richards in Robert Johnson mode, in the form of the unaccompanied Delta blues snippet that gives the album its title. By the time we’ve spent an hour with Keef and Co., we’ve been treated to snarling rockers like the splendid “Trouble” and the defiant, sultry “Nothing On Me,” a nimble reggae-ska workout in “Love Overdue,” and a handful of gorgeous, if ragged ballads, principal among them the glorious “Robbed Blind,” one of the finest Stones-related songs in decades. An irony-free, Leadbelly-like “Goodnight Irene” is crust on the shepherd’s pie.
As the title tune ends unceremoniously with a quick stop of the tape, Richards intones, “That’s all I got.” Yeah, Keith, that’s all you’ve got. And it’s more than enough.
- Jeff Miers