Beyond the band at your local bar butchering Honky Tonk Women or Brown Sugar, consider how few Rolling Stones covers there really are. That’s because it’s not as easy to play them as it might seem.
Seriously – if you’re going to cover some other band’s song, you either have to do it better than the original, or completely differently…or pretty much note for note. That last approach is the one that Blackberry Smoke take on their brand-new vinyl album Stoned, streaming at Spotify just in time for 4/20.
Interestingly, the band focus mostly on one specific period in Stones history, with tracks from Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. Most of this stuff is iconic. How does it come off? Pretty damn well.
The level of craft here is meticulous but not stuffy and reverential: these guys nail the simmering tube amp atmosphere but also the pervasive, doomed cynicism of the originals. Guitarists Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson latch onto the slide-driven swagger of the first track, All Down the Line – and Starr enunciates way better than Mick Jagger. Bassist Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner are a little more four-on-the-floor than Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts; Brandon Still’s spare, Nashville-inspired piano is an improvement on the Exile version.
“It’s just that demon lie that got you in its sway” – how cool is it to actually hear the lyrics to that one? The guitar sonics are an eerie approximation of the opiated original, Still’s echoey electric piano enhancing the vibe.
As Still’s organ rises in the mix in Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, the band switch out the lowrider soul for a more psychedelic approach. Tumbling Dice is more chill and focused than the original – and Jagger’s endless gambling metaphors are actually pretty clever! Who knew!
The band move forward in time a few albums for a second-gen cover, Just My Imagination – arguably the best one the Stones themselves ever did. This one doesn’t have the unleashed roar of the Some Girls version. Good song, solidly played.
Likewise, I Got the Blues – the real gem among the deep cuts on Sticky Fingers – is sketchier than the original. The band close with a ripsnorting take of Street Fighting Man, a great choice: they do to it what the Stones did to Just My Imagination.
How good does all this sound if you’re stoned? You be the judge. It takes a lot of memory to run a music blog, in every sense of the word. Blackberry Smoke’s next stop on their latest tour is tomorrow night, April 21 at around 8:30 PM at the Norva, 317 Monticello Ave. in Norfolk, Virginia. Another solid southern-fried band, Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos open the night at 7:30; cover is $27.50.