Keith Richards: Crosseyed Heart

Keef’s first solo album in 20 years, featuring a collaboration with Norah Jones.

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On listening to the blues picking of the cursory opening title track, Crosseyed Heart, in which Richards picks out a few raw, acoustic blues licks as if he’s plucking a chicken on a porch, it’s tempting to quip that when it comes to authenticity, he certainly knocks spots off Hugh Laurie. But then, you realise, there are actual grizzled old bluesmen out there who are less authentically blues than Keith Richards.

This album is the work of a rough old dog with a pedigree beyond compare, who has nothing to fear or prove, and every reason to just relax and do precisely what he feels like doing as the studio mood takes him. None of which is to suggest that this is self-indulgent – Crosseyed Heart actually delivers.

Trouble, the first single off the album, is a bundle in which are contained chops of Ry Cooder, Little Feat, Big Star and even the Rolling Stones. And as Something For Nothing shows, there are real lumps in the gumbo he’s cooked up here, in which rock, blues, funk and even reggae (on Love Overdue) jostle and jumble. The broth isn’t ruined by over-production or executive caution either – this, you believe, is served up just as Keith would want it to be. Blues In The Morning, meanwhile, is as much of a treat as whiskey on your cornflakes.

Granted, there are one or two lyrics that sound like the work of one of less than grandmaster standing. There’s Heartstopper, for instance, in which he lists the differences between himself and the latest female love of his life: ‘She’s a vegetarian/And I like my meat,’ or Amnesia, in which, with undue self-deprecation, he declares, ‘I didn’t even know the Titanic sank!

All good fun, but you wonder if Richards might be advised to team up with some charismatic frontman with a knack for a memorable phrase if he really wants to push his solo work on to the next level.

He’s aided and abetted here by some old friends, such as singer Bernard Fowler, who did such magnificent soul work with The Peech Boys in the 1980s but has more recently done sterling backup work with the Stones. Meanwhile, Norah Jones co-stars on Illusion, which, as with Goodnight Irene, demonstrates a little of the sad-eyed stateliness of vintage Dylan.

Even if this had been a duffer, it wouldn’t have mattered. As the poet said of Shakespeare, “Others abide our question; thou art free.” Keith is free to do what he wants too, and he’s taken wonderful liberties here.

Classic Rock 215: New Albums

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David Stubbs

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.