What Am I Listening To Now? – Don Was revisits “Exile on Main Street”

Posted: May 19, 2010 in music, What Am I Listening To Now?
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Don Was revisits “Exile on Main street” – Don spoke to NPR’s “All songs Considered” host Bob Boilen about the new deluxe release of this classic Rolling Stones album, and managed to make the recording sessions sound even more dark and mysterious than they seemed from listening to the record, before I knew any of the details. It was recorded in the dank, smoky basement of the French castle Keith Richards lived in when the Stones went into tax exile in the early 70s. Apparently, George Harrison wasn’t exaggerating in “Taxman” – British people in the Stone’s tax bracket were paying 93%.

Reportedly, “Exile” is mostly Keith’s baby, at least on a soul level. He was in his element surrounded by drugs, derelicts and fellow strung-out musicians such as Graham Parsons, who doesn’t appear on the album but coached Keith in countrified chord fingerings between takes. Bill and Charlie were an integral part of the daily sessions of course, but it sounded like they were a bit homesick, sending home for parcels of baked beans and brown sauce. Mick was there for all the vocal takes, but he was equally interested in hanging out with the “jet set” in Paris, so he wasn’t always around. And by now I imagine Mick Taylor was wishing he’d joined another band – ANY other band. The next album, “Goat’s Head Soup”, was his last.

Whatever the circumstances, “Exile” is surely the Stones most unique album – a dense, swampy mixture of blues, funk soul and rock. And now it’s been remastered, again, with “ten new tracks”. Well, no, actually it’s eight new tracks and two alternate takes.

Apparently there are a vast number of songs that were begun and recorded during that period, but never finished. Don listened to about 300 hours of the stuff before the glimmer twins came along to cite 30 or 40 tracks they specifically wanted him to look out for. Now you tell me. Don had to give the raw multi-track tapes their first mix. In many cases Jagger had to record entire vocal parts, or at least punch in vocals between the existing ones. Surprisingly, the old and the new blend together pretty seamlessly, and the small bit I heard has me interested in hearing the rest.

So here we go again – another album to buy multiple times. At least it will sound better than the CD version I bought in the early 90s, which is yet another victim of poor mastering in the early days of CD releases.

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