Keith Richards always did move reluctantly to centre stage outside of his beloved day job. He was a quarter century into his musical lifetime before he ever made a solo album, and it’s almost as long of an interlude between his second and third.
*Crosseyed Heart *is not only a worthy successor to Talk Is Cheap and Main Offender, but it also has a vitality that you can’t help wishing the Stones had harnessed on a more frequent studio basis in latter years. For a record he’s been dabbing during the gaps between band tours and book deals, it’s utterly energising. That’s largely because the X-Pensive Winos alliance that backed Richards’ previous endeavours was absolutely not broken, so he didn’t fix it.
His co-writer and co-producer, as ever, is Steve Jordan, a man with a patent passion for music and whose blues credentials include Messrs Cray, Guy and the recent, marvellous outings by Boz Scaggs. Ivan Neville, Bernard Fowler and Sarah Dash are among the other returning contributors. The old gang provide the hug of familiarity that Richards needs in this context. For all of the piratical image, there’s a terribly endearing vulnerability about Keith that he wants to deflect by playing.
Happily, in Jordan he has a writing partner with whom he can celebrate the gloriously ragged rock that still sounds as if it might come to bits in their hands at any moment. He begins with an unfinished acoustic blues sketch of the title track before ripping into a couple of sturdy rockers, Heartstopper and Amnesia, and soon another in the irresistible single Trouble.
The guitars are as muscular as always – Something For Nothing even hints at Satisfaction, while Substantial Damage is superbly cantankerous – and the voice is a familiar rasp. Keith’s hidden forte as a soloist has been stripped-back ballads, as on Make No Mistake and Hate It When You Leave, and the new set has its share, such as Robbed Blind and Suspicious. There’s a reggae nod with Gregory Isaacs’ Love Overdue and a pass at Lead Belly’s time-steeped Goodnight Irene. But the masterstroke collaboration is with Norah Jones on her co-write Illusion, which might be the blue-eyed soul secret of the year. These and other treats abound on an album that oozes such warmth that your heart would be not just cross-eyed, but stone-cold to turn it away.