The Rolling Stones / Hackney Diamonds (Geffen)
If you’re like me and have had The Rolling Stones in your DNA since childhood, then a review of Hackney Diamonds is probably redundant. By this point—with the band incredibly marking its 60th year as a working unit—longtime fans know what to expect. The only question is, will Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ variations on the formula they perfected with 1978’s Some Girls make a new addition to their immense catalogue worthwhile. First impressions of Hackney Diamonds suggest that, indeed, the Stones have finally brought their A-game into the 21st century. Of course, it comes in the wake of Steve Jordan taking over on drums following Charlie Watts’ passing in 2021, but despite a few moments on Hackney Diamonds when posthumous Charlie tracks clearly shine through, the subtleties of his playing weren’t the main focus for producer Andrew Watt, whose other recent clients include Iggy Pop and Ozzy Osbourne. Charlie’s guitars-first approach thus makes Hackney Diamonds the Stones’ most rough cut album since 1994’s Voodoo Lounge. This will certainly make Keef fans happy, while Mick, at 80, continues to defy all laws of time and space, spitting out the frustrations of an unsatisfied lover on “Angry,” “Bite My Head Off” and “Driving Me Too Hard” like someone still on their second marriage. Connoisseurs will likewise be glad to know that Richards’ mandatory lead vocal, “Tell Me Straight,” is one of his late-period romantic gems (or should that be diamonds?). On the other hand, the much-lauded guest appearances by Paul McCartney and Elton John are almost completely overshadowed by Lady Gaga’s contribution to “Sweet Sounds Of Heaven,” a classic soul ballad that she and Jagger elevate to stadium-level heights. It seems a tailor-made finale, but The Glimmer Twins instead close Hackney Diamonds with a full-circle moment: a stripped down, gut-bucket rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone Blues,” the song that inspired the band’s name. It’s in some ways bittersweet, given the unstoppable march of time, but for now The Rolling Stones are providing us with everything they are capable of offering, and for that reason alone we should be grateful.
Dylan LeBlanc / Coyote (ATO Records)
Since releasing his first album in 2010, Louisiana native Dylan LeBlanc has steadily been rising through the Americana ranks, with his songs building on the Southern Gothic literary tradition. On Coyote, Dylan seems to have reached a place where he’s ready to make a grand statement; as his first self-produced album Coyote’s 13 songs follow a loose narrative about a man becoming enmeshed in a Mexican drug cartel. Musically, Dylan’s breathy vocals intermingle with reverb-heavy guitars and sweeping string arrangements to create a sonic complement to the Cormac McCarthy-esque settings of “Dark Waters” and “Dust.” However, as the title track establishes at the outset, Dylan has a connection to the natural world that strengthens the album’s mystical qualities, and further underscores the fact that he’s more than a mere genre experimentalist. Instead, Coyote exists in its own netherworld where those visiting are advised to tread lightly and always watch their back.
Glen Hansard / All That Was East Is West Of Me Now (Anti- Records)
Although not exactly a household name in North America, Glen Hansard has still had the kind of career most singer/songwriters dream of, having figured out how to blur the lines between music, film and the stage. It’s allowed the Dublin-born artist to form some unlikely alliances, from Eddie Vedder to Ed Sheeran, while never wavering from his aspirations to match the work of his “holy trinity”—Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Leonard Cohen. It’s easy to view Glen’s work through that lens, but like some of his Dublin predecessors (Bono, Sinead, The Waterboys’ Mike Scott), he’s followed the pattern of making music intended to inspire listeners to overcome life’s greatest obstacles. On his fifth album, Glen seems intent on using extremes to get that message across, opening with a barrage of distorted guitars on “The Feast Of St. John” and “Down On Our Knees,” before settling into the dark romanticism of “Sure As The Rain” and “Between Us There Is Music.” The quieter shift causes the pace to drag slightly, but the soaring “Short Life” brings the album to a satisfying conclusion before it overstays its welcome. Glen Hansard writes the kind of earnest, intense songs few people seem to have the capacity to do much these days, and All That Was East Is West Of Me Now is arguably his most complete solo collection to date.
SONG OF THE WEEK
Kurt Vile / “Another Good Year For The Roses” (Verve Records)