Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rolling Stones ~ Steel Wheels

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Style: hard rock, British, blues-rock
Label: Columbia
Year: 1989
Home: n/a


Members: Mick Jagger ~ vocals/guitar/harmonica
Keith Richards ~ guitar/vocals
Charlie Watts ~ drums
Ronnie Wood ~ guitar/bass/dobro/b. vocals
Bill Wyman ~ bass

Additional: Chuck Leavell ~ keyboards
Matt Clifford ~ keyboards/clavinet/harmonium
Sarah Dash, Lisa Fischer, Bernard Fowler, Tessa Niles, Sonia Morgan ~ b. vocals
Luis Jardim ~ percussion
Phil Beer ~ mandolin/violin
The Kick Horns ~ horns
Roddy Lorimer ~ trumpet
The Master Musicians of Jajouka, Bachir Attar Farafina ~ African-Moroccan instruments

Many people forget that the Rolling Stones broke-up in the 80's. Largely spurred by both musical differences in the band, declining sales & Mick Jagger's desire for a solo career the hiatus would give birth to the Charlie Watts Jazz Orchestra & Keith Richards' X-Pensive Winos ... eclipsing Jagger's solo outings & ignitiating his jealousy to reform the band ... so one version of the story goes. Steel Wheels, jokingly nicknamed 'Steel Wheelchairs' due to the aging band, was their comeback/reunion album. Though the Stones have never been predictable from one release to another, Steel Wheels once again changed the sound of the band. With this reunion the band went all the way with Jagger's desire to turn the band into an arena anthem rock outfit with such big radio friendly songs as "Rock & A Hard Place", "Mixed Emotions" & "Sad Sad Sad" yet surprisingly also gave ample space to the slower sombering ballads sung &/or often penned by Keith Richards (i.e. "Can't Be Seen"). It's an interesting study in contrasts with the ballads getting lost in the shuffle at the time until being revived years later thanks to HBO's Sopranos that featured Keith in the credits. Sadly the arena rock would take priority in later releases, further making the reunion less than a reunion, & making Steel Wheels a highlight of the later Stones output until A Bigger Bang brought the band back to its bluesy roots ... everything in between including the live albums tending toward gluttony if not a sign that the band was a business not a band. Another thing that changed with Steel Wheels was the expansion of the band. There had always been additional musicians outside the official quintet, considering the band was co-founded by pianist Ian Stuart who was deemed too unattractive to be seen anywhere except performing out of sight behind an amp, while after Stuart's death there continued to be numerous pianists in the backing band plus a horn section. But, on Steel Wheels was the addition of backing vocalists from Jagger's solo band along with Sara Dash from the X-Pensive Winos. The later Bridges To Babylon would see even more studio musicians including numerous guitarists. It didn't help matter that this was the beginning of Jagger's habit of recording & writing separtely in a different studio while the rest of the band, & friends, stayed together. This would also be the final album with bassist Bill Wyman whose musical contributions continue to be underlooked. But, all that being said Steel Wheels is loaded with more memorable songs than had been found on the previous few Stones albums (i.e. Undercover, Dirty Work) & some of the best songs they'd produce in the forthcoming decade. As for those that decry the anthem songs luckily they take up less than half the album with the rest being glossy but attractive ballady rockers from a middle-aged band of beloved musicians. There's a few throwaways, but there's never been a Stones album album that didn't have at least one or two. Yes, they've done better albums, but that was decades earlier in a world & with line-ups we'll never see again thus we can either enjoy where the Stones have gone since or just forget about them & ignore some music great without comparison of what came before.


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