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Revisiting the magic
The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main Street
Review by Tony Bonyata38 years after the release of what many consider to be their crowning masterpiece, The Rolling Stones have not only given their album Exile On Main Street it's long overdue CD remastering job, but have also included an additional 10 never before released outtakes from the original 1971 sessions. Whether you want to argue that Sticky Fingers may be a more focused album, or that Let It Bleed is their most defining effort, or that Beggar's Banquet even preceded Exile's exploration into deep American roots music by four years, is neither here nor there. What matters is that Exile On Main Street has finally gotten the proper sonic overhaul it's needed for so long, and the sound is absolutely stunning, with many instruments coming to life for the first time on this reissue. Stones purists, however, will be happy to know that while the remastering has cleaned-up certain elements of the production and instrumentation, the underlying grit, loose vibe and dirt-under-the-nails is every bit intact.
The lion's share of tracks on Exile were recorded during The Stones' move to France in the summer of '71 in an effort to allude the mammoth taxes owed to the U.K. government - more than even a band of their stature could afford pay. The basic tracks were recorded in the basement (converted to studio) of Keith Richards' rented villa, Nellcote, in the south of France, while a constant flow of hangers-on, drugs and booze fueled the non-stop party just above the make-shift studio. The hedonistic rock & roll lifestyle may have played a small hand in the creation of the music on this sprawling masterpiece, but the fact was that, after releasing two other magnificent albums with recently recruited guitarist Mick Taylor (Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers), this was a band firing on all creative cylinders.
Exile On Main Street was originally released in 1972 as a two-disc set, and while some may quibble that it could've been trimmed down to a tighter, more concise single album, the true magic that unfolds comes, quite often, by way of the oddly affecting so-called filler tracks on the album, such as the murky, gospel-tinged "I Just Want To See His Face," the cow-poke boogie of both "Shake Your Hips" and "Turd On The Run," as well as the soiled-denim country of "Sweet Virginia" and the blasting Memphis-basted Southern rock of "Rip This Joint." Never totally abandoning the music that first inspired the young London boys, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, to form what would later be described as "the world's greatest rock & roll band," The Stones' tear into a blistering take of blues legend Robert Johnson's 1937 song "Stop Breaking Down." And while this lengthy studio effort yielded less hits than most of their single albums from the '60s and '70s, the clarity of the newly re-mastered 1972 chart favorites "Tumbling Dice" and "Happy" are revelations in themselves.
What may intrigue die-hard fans even more than the remarkable re-mastering of these classic songs, are the 10 bonus tracks as part of the deluxe double CD package. "Good Time Women" is actually an embryonic version of "Tumbling Dice," complete with different, if not inferior, lyrics. They also offer up interesting outtakes of both "Loving Cup" and " Soul Survivor," the latter featuring Richards delightfully snarling and mumbling his way through Jagger's original lead vocal lines. While the basic tracks for these rarities were recorded in '71 as part of the original Exile On Main Street sessions, a few were also unfinished without lyrics, which Jagger has remedied, historically for better or worse, by writing and recorded new lyrics and vocals. "Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren)" is a greasy slice of Southern funk, "Following The River" a handsome ballad bathed in southern holy water, while "I'm Not Signifying" is a loose, staggering, triple shot of boozy blues. The most amazing and revelatory track of all the bonus material, however, is "Plundered My Soul," a heart-on-the-sleeve, soul-drenched number that not only encompasses the entire mystic and magical groove of Exile On Main Street, but also that of The Rolling Stones at the top of their game.
Whether you're looking for a beautiful sonic update of this record or interested in hearing some remarkable Stones rarities, this set is, simply put, an absolute must.
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