Country music stars including Eric Church, Ashley McBryde and Lainey Wilson celebrate The Rolling Stones’ 60th anniversary with a twist on Stoned Cold Country.
Without the Rolling Stones, would anyone in England have known what a honky-tonk is? That was one of the questions posed during the making of Stoned Cold Country, country music’s 60th anniversary tribute to the Rolling Stones.
Whilst I have no doubt we would have got there eventually, there’s certainly a line to be drawn from the Stones’ mutual influence on country music to the eventual boom of the genre’s popularity in the UK today, where its stars sell out the same arenas as the Stones – and London even has its very first honky tonk.
Tribute albums are a tricky thing to pull off, but on this one almost everyone involved understands the brief: affection, not affectation. So it succeeds, delivering an excellent set of covers rendered in a veneer of American polish, where the fuzz is turned down, cadence is crystal and rough edges are mostly buffed away; a tone set immediately with Ashley McBryde’s opener on ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’.
It’s only right that true honky-tonkers Brooks & Dunn get to take on ‘Honky Tonk Women’, not least because they’d never worked out the lyrics of the first line until they were called up to cover it for the album. For reference, it’s a ‘gin-soaked’, not ‘gentle’, queen they meet in Memphis.
In a sweet nod to the power of the Jagger and Richards pairing, duos Brothers Osborne and the War & Treaty join forces on ‘It’s Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It)’, infusing it with a big band feel. Zac Brown Band’s ‘Paint It Black’ retains the mystique of the original, making a smart choice to put its mournful strings front and centre, whilst Lainey Wilson’s raw, twangy vocals easily wraps itself around ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’.
Eric Church on ‘Gimme Shelter’, and Steve Earle covering ‘Angie’, are the only two to really go for Jagger impersonations, only somewhat offset by Earle who goes for a different style of Mick from the one who appeared on the original. Jimmie Allen’s cover of ‘Miss You’ is opened by Willie Nelson’s long time harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and wins the prize for sounding the least like a Stones song, whilst actually staying firmly and pleasantly in the lane of the original.
Elle King and Marcus King (no relation), covering ‘Tumbling Dice’ and ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’, respectively, are the two who best manage to capture the casual swagger of the Stones, with Marcus King in particular retaining the shroud and shred.
The cover that strays the most from its original, and conversely one of the highlights of the album, is Maren Morris’ take on ‘Dead Flowers’. She takes the same approach she did when covering ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ on country’s Elton John compilation several years ago, turning it into a soulful, bluesy number with vocals that hit the roof.
Can anyone truly capture the spirit of the Rolling Stones? No, because this is an album smart enough not to set itself an unachievable task. The point – and one this record achieves – is for country to get well and truly stoned, and to have a good time doing it, honouring the spirit of rock n’ roll.