Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: September 18th, 2015, via Mindless Records
Twenty-three years after his last solo album, Main Offender, and ten years since The Rolling Stones last original studio album, A Bigger Bang, Keith Richards looks to break that recorded silence with Crosseyed Heart. More importantly, the Human Riff, as he is deservingly often known as, proves that once again he can deliver a record, from front to back, worthy of great praise.
Opening with the acoustic and incredibly bluesy title track, Keith belts, croons, and howls overtop his rough, but masterfully crafted guitar part which plays homage to the traditional acoustic blues made famous in America in the 1950’s. After some fine noodling, he abruptly stops and says “A’ight that’s all I got” which adds a layer of eternal coolness to the track, and subsequently the rest of the album. This juxtaposition, between the seriousness in which he performs the blues and how he chooses to conclude the song in that peculiar and silly method, or how intricate his guitar parts are written contrasting how he chooses to add some intentional sloppiness to it tells you that he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s Keith fucken Richards, the coolest person to grace this earth, and he knows that, but he’ll still sing you a song, or fourteen.
While there are other bluesy numbers (“Blues In the Morning” and a cover of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene”), not all the songs are such literal translations of the traditional form of the blues. “Heartstopper” is a modern rock song with a really interesting minor chord progression and a faster pace to it. The lead single, “Trouble” sounds like a lost gem from the Stones late 70’s period, with Keith’s signature sharp but thin guitar tone playing a rhythmic riff and has a catchy chorus. Long-time guitarist, Waddy Wachtel, makes for the second half of a fantastic guitar duo. Much like how when with the Stones, Keith and Ronnie Wood often intertwine their guitar parts in, out, and around each other’s, the same style and sophistication is present on each song that features numerous guitar tracks. While there may not be any shredding, this is certainly a guitar heavy album, overflowing with solid riffs, weaving guitar parts, intricate comping patterns, and tasteful licks.
Things get seriously funky on “Amnesia”, a song which sounds to be played through a tunnel due to all the reverb over the slinky guitar parts and Keith near rambling lyrics, likely retelling his concussion, and near death, from falling out of a coconut tree in 2006. “Love Is Overdue”, originally by Gregory Isaacs, strays from the funk and introduces a splash of reggae which Keith so frequently includes in his past solo work and with the Stones. The funk, however, continues with “Substantial Damage”, which features the tightest groove on the record. Drummer, co-producer, and co-songwriter Steve Jordan shines and continues to do justice throughout Crosseyed Heart as one of rock and pop’s hardest grooving drummer, especially on “Substantial Damage”.
The album has no shortage of ballads either. “Robbed Blind” sits smoothly as Keith strums away at an acoustic guitar, backed by softer drums, soulful piano, and a number a flamenco textured guitar licks slipping in between the arpeggiated chords. The best of all the ballads though would be “Illusion”. Keith’s voice echoes over the minor chords and the brushes on the drums add a hazy and jazzy quality to the song. The song really picks up when Norah Jones takes the second verse; truly the voice of an angel. As the song progresses, Norah and Keith weave their vocal lines together in beautiful harmony much like how the guitars do throughout the record. It’s chilling to say the least. These two need to collaborate more often, perhaps an acoustic album. Please?
Over the course of its near hour length, Crosseyed Heart demonstrates a diverse range of material. Very few artists could include elements of reggae, country, folk, funk, and traditional blues and take it all and make a cohesive classic rock record. It’s hard to even classify this as classic rock; it feels fresh and sounds modern, or rather, it does not sound like a majority of musicians who regroup or attempt to emulate the clichés associated with classic rock, most of which were hip in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, but now sound dated and tired. Instead, we have a rejuvenated perspective on the classic cannon from one of the genres greatest songwriters. With a heavy emphasis on the blues, which he seamlessly injects into any other style which he plays, Keith manages to makes what should come across as aged rock sound youthful. His voice on the other hand is rough and gravelly and clearly shows signs of his age. But again, rather than sound outdated, his voice adds a sage like aura to his compositions, with its smoky quality creating a layer of vulnerability, adding to the aforementioned coolness.
He’s no has-been, nor has he lost his musically relevance in this digital age. I would go as far to say that Crosseyed Heart makes for a very raw and real record, one with enough spirit to influence many, and it just may be the organic, rootsy record we need in the 21st century to remind us of how effectively a simpler, heartfelt style of music can reach us. This is a vintage album in every sense of the word, in fact it even has a certain timeless quality to it. It almost feels wrong to listen to it through my laptop speakers, this needs to be fully enjoyed on vinyl. Keith hits all the marks with great excellence as he performs an array of soulful ballads, up-tempo rockers, muddy blues, and funky grooves. Crosseyed Heart is almost a compilation of Keith’s greatest hits from his over fifty years in the business due to the rich infusion of genres included throughout the record and how these styles have matured throughout his career. No one else could have delivered this record. This is 100%, unapologetically a Keith Richards album, and that is reflected through an extensive collection of musical experiences, from past solo work, guest features, and over twenty records with The Rolling Stones, all culminated into a new collection of songs which ooze aged sophistication. Simply put, Crosseyed Heart is too damn good and reaffirms that the epitome of all that is cool, Keith Richards, is rock n’roll.
1: Crosseyed Heart
4: Robbed Blind
6: Love Overdue
7: Nothing On Me
9: Blues In The Morning
10: Something For Nothing
12: Just A Gift
13: Goodnight Irene
14: Substantial Damage
15: Lover’s Plea