James Beaty: OPINION: RAMBLIN': The Stones are rolling again with 'Hackney Diamonds'

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Oct. 22—I usually like to listen to an album at least five times before I decide how much I like it — but with the Rolling Stone's new album "Hackney Diamonds" released Friday, I only had time for one listen before writing this column.

My immediate impression: Take everything most fans like about the best of the Stones, such as those killer riffs, impassioned vocals, funky rockers, the blues, some country shadings, slide guitar, an acoustic number or two and throw it all together.

The result can be wonderfully heard on "Hackney Diamonds," which even includes a gospel song!

It will be a worthy addition to those classic Stones albums of the past, such as "Beggars' Banquet," "Let It Bleed," "Sticky Fingers," "Exile on Main Street" and "Some Girls."

I know the Stones set the bar pretty high with those albums, but they reach heights they haven't achieved in a long time — at least in the recording studio — with "Hackney Diamonds."

I'm not saying "Hackney Diamonds" surpasses any of the aforementioned albums, but I do believe it can stand proudly alongside them.

"Hackney Diamonds" is much more than an impressive album by some aging rockers. I think most fans would have considered it a great album during any of the Stones' eras.

I admit I felt a little unsure about what to expect when I heard the album's leadoff single, "Angry." While it rocked well enough, I wondered how it would have been received if the song had been released by an unknown band.

Still, the Stones have never been a typical band and after sending the song through Keith Richards-Ronnie Wood guitar riff machines and adding those one of a kind Mick Jagger vocals, it benefits from the full Rolling Stones treatment.

Since "Angry" is the first song released from "Hackney Diamonds" a few weeks ago, I have to say it's grown on me because I have listened to it several times now — and I especially like it more in the context of the entire album.

Like Bob Dylan's 2021 album "Rough and Rowdy Ways," the Stones' "Hackney Diamonds" is a remarkable late-period entry on the career of a major recording artist.

The Stones' core trio now consists of Jagger, who turned 80 on July 26; Richards, who is 79 and will turn 80 on Dec. 18, and the youngster of the group, Wood, who's only 75.

Some of the credit for the strong showing by "Hackney Diamonds "should go to producer Andrew Watt, who's also credited as a co-songwriter with Jaggers and Richards on several songs.

Word is Paul McCartney first suggested Watt as a producer to Jagger, who followed up on the advice.

Ironically, the first notes of the Stones' new album are played by the band's new drummer, Steve Jordan, who is filling the slot left vacant by the 2021 passing of the band's longtime drummer, Charlie Watts.

While Jordan opens the album with a funky drumbeat to kick-off "Angry," he's joined a few seconds later by that Richards-Wood riff combo, followed by Jaggers' vocals.

It's the first of the first three tracks in which Watt is credited as a co-songwriter along with Jaggers and Richards.

OK, so we're off to a rock-steady start with "Angry" — but I wondered what else would follow.

"Get Close" is the second song in a row to kick off with a brief drum solo before the rest of the instruments kick in, but no matter. Jordan lays down such a funky beat that it's fine with me.

Once again, the drums are followed by another set of Stones riffs, courtesy of Wood and Keef. Jagger takes lyrics as simple as "I wan to get close to you" and "Tell me I'm the only man you ever dream about" and fills them with that rocking feeling at which he so excels.

In addition to those intertwined guitars, "Get Close" includes a surprise — a powerful saxophone solo by James King. It also includes piano — but no credited vocals — by special guest Elton John.

"Depending On You" is either an uptempo ballad or a slowed-down rocker, that benefits from former Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench on Hammond organ. It also features a magnificent slide guitar solo.

Since all the album credits I've seen list both Richards and Wood simply as guitarists, I'm sometimes unsure which of the two is taking a solo at a given time, but either way, they blend together in that inimitable Stones sound.

On the album's fourth track, "You Bite My Head Off," their British mate McCartney joins them on bass, laying down a powerful rhythmic foundation along with Jordan on drums.

It even features a brief bass solo when Jagger says, "Come on Paul, let's get us some bass."

Stones and company hit a more melodic turn on "When the Whole Wide World's Against You," with Jagger immersing himself in the lyrics: "When the whole wide world's against you and got you on the run, when you think the party's over, it's only just begun."

It also features another smoking guitar solo.

I'd heard Jagger say in a televised interview the album would include one of the Stones' country songs as soon as they started "Dreamy Skies," I knew it was the one.

Stones fans who liked earlier Stones songs such as "No Expectations" or "You've Got the Silver" will no doubt love "Dreamy Skies," when Jagger sings lines such as "I've been dancing on diamonds" and "I've been chopping on wood."

"I've got to take a break from it all," Jagger sings about going to the country.

"And I won't hear the sirens or the maddening crowd, just the bark of a fox and the hoot of an owl."

He sends the point home by saying an old radio is all he's got. "It just plays Hank Williams and some bad honky-tonk."

They're back to rocking with "Mess It Up," one of the songs they recorded with Watts on drums, before he passed away.

It includes one of my favorite parts of the album, when Jagger sings "You ask a question" then jumps to falsetto to sing "And I won't lie."

Another rocker, "Live by the Sword," reunites the Stones of old, by including not only Watts on drums, but also former Stones bassist Bill Wyman, who hadn't recorded with the band for 30 years before rejoining his old band mates on the song.

It's good to hear the Stones of old once more, augmented again by Elton John on piano.

The Stones continue in a rocking vein with a country shade on "Driving Me Too Hard," in which either Richards or Wood does a great sound of emulating a country steel guitar, also featuring a turn on the harmonica by Jagger.

That leads to one of my favorite tracks on the album, "Tell Me Straight," with a lead vocal by Richards. I've always took liked it when Richards took a lead vocal with the Stones, and on this one, he goes straight to the heart.

"Sweet Sounds of Heaven" is the penultimate song on the album, and for me, my favorite track.

If anyone's had ever wondered what the Rolling Stones might sound like playing a gospel song, here's the answer. It's a Jagger-Richards original, where the band is joined by Lady Gaga on a soulful vocal and a turn on the keyboards by Stevie Wonder.

It begins with Jagger softly intoning "I hear the sweet, sweet sounds of heaven, falling down, falling down to the earth."

Soon, Lady Gaga joins in on a call and response with Jagger that will be reversed when she takes the lead and Jagger sings the response.

"Bless the Father, bless the Son," Jagger sings, then later adds "I want to be drenched in the rain of your heavenly love. Let it burst, let it burst through the clouds."

It sounds as if the song is ending at just over 5 minutes in, but then Wonder hits a brief piano solo, with Jordan kicking in on the drums and Lady Gaga and Jagger taking another vocal flight for the big finish.

Speaking of a big finish, the album ends with the Muddy Waters classic, "Rolling Stone Blues" — the source of the name of that British band which formed an amazing 61 years ago.

It also shows the Stones still have a great sense of humor, as they do an acoustic turn, featuring another down and dirty harmonica solo courtesy of Jagger.

"My mother told my father, just before I was born," Jagger sings.

"You got a boy child coming. He's gonna be a Rolling Stone, gonna be a Rolling Stone, gonna be a Rolling Stone."

I can think of no better way to end the album.