The Rolling Stones opened their 2015 North American tour with something special: a first-ever live performance of their entire Sticky Fingers album, a raucous, drug-fueled 1971 LP that includes several tunes they’ve rarely offered in concert. The album, which topped the charts after its release, is justifiably considered a career high point. It features a motley assortment of classics by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, including “Brown Sugar”; the countrified “Wild Horses” and “Dead Flowers”; “Sister Morphine,” which Marianne Faithfull co-wrote; and the poetic, musically adventurous “Moonlight Mile.” Also on the program: a fine cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move.”
The 2015 concert—which benefits from the intimate (1,350-seat) venue of Hollywood, California’s Fonda Theatre—has just been made available in assorted Blu-ray/CD/DVD/LP configurations. Both the audio and video versions couple Sticky Fingers to a half dozen bonus tracks from the same show: Tattoo You’s “Start Me Up,” Exile on Main Street’s “All Down the Line”; “I Can’t Turn You Loose”; “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the famous 1968 single; B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby”; and Some Girls’ “When the Whip Comes Down.” The video also incorporates a bit of interview material.
The band on Sticky Fingers Live at the Fonda Theatre 2015 is not quite the one that recorded the original LP. Mick Taylor, who made major contributions to Sticky Fingers, left the group in 1974; Bill Wyman bowed out in 1993; and such luminous backup artists as Jack Nitzsche, Ry Cooder, Billy Preston, Bobby Keys, and Nicky Hopkins are gone as well. But Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are here, of course, as are guitarist Ronnie Wood (an official group member since 1976) and drummer Charlie Watts; and along with a new backup crew, they prove more than capable of delivering the material.
In fact, their high-octane show is remarkable when you consider that at the time of this concert, Jagger and Richards were both 71, Watts was 73, and Wood was 67. Back when this music was new, I don’t think anyone—certainly not Jagger or Richards—ever imagined that septuagenarians would be performing it. But they are, and somehow, they seem just about as energized and musically adept as their younger selves. “Brown Sugar,” with a scalding sax break, packs at least as much punch as the original recording, for example; ditto “When the Whip Comes Down,” which evolves into a frenetic guitar jam.
The concert CD is worth having, but the music sounds significantly better on the Blu-ray. One reason is undoubtedly that it features pristine surround-sound DTS-HD Master Audio. But with the Stones, performance visuals have always been a big factor in the music; it’s one thing to hear “Brown Sugar,” another to see Keith Richards sporting a mischievous grin and making wild sounds on his guitar while a manic Jagger prowls around a stage.
The Wailin’ Jennys, Fifteen. When your harmonies are as good as the Wailin’ Jennys’, you don’t need a lot of instrumentation. On Fifteen, the trio’s first album in six years, the vocals occupy center stage, and three tracks are a cappella: Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock,” Hank Williams’s “Weary Blues from Waitin’,” and Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” There’s not a bad track on the all-covers album, which also includes the traditional “Old Churchyard,” Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” Jane Siberry’s “The Valley,” Patty Griffin’s “Not Alone,” and two of my favorite folk ballads: Warren Zevon’s poignant “Keep Me in Your Heart” and Emmylou Harris and Bill Danoff’s exquisite “Boulder to Birmingham.” The arrangements are gorgeous throughout Fifteen, whose title refers to the number of years that the band’s three members have been working together. The nine-track album clocks in at only 35 minutes—perhaps because family obligations limited the Jennys’s studio time to five days—but I’ll take quality over quantity anytime.
Jenn Rawling, Golden Colors. Poetic lyrics, indelible melodies, atmospheric instrumentation, and especially Jenn Rawling’s delicate alto add up to winning music on this third release from the Oregon-based singer/songwriter. Fans of Joni Mitchell will probably like the album but a better reference point might be the late British artist Nick Drake. Like Drake, Rawling performs healing music in a sweet, vulnerable-sounding voice and with a pervasive gentleness. A treat from start to finish.
Martha High, Tribute to My Soul Sisters. Martha High spent more than three decades in James Brown’s shadow, doing everything from singing in his Funky Divas group to styling his hair and handling his payroll. Now she’s stage center with an album of songs originally recorded by such other Divas members as Vicki Anderson and Lyn Collins. The 13-track album, which features six songs written or co-written by Brown, benefits from backup by Japan’s Osaka Monaurail, a horn-enhanced, Brown-influenced band. Funk dominates the program, but where I think High shines brightest is on such Motown/Stax-style soul ballads as “I Cried” and “This Is My Story.”