At their peak, the Rolling Stones represented the living rock ‘n’ roll embodiment of danger and hedonism. Before the rise of heavy metal devil-dabbling, Mick Jagger wasn’t accused of worshipping Lucifer as much as he was thought to be old Scratch himself, a role he openly embraced and capitalized upon until it was milked dry. At the same time, the other half of the Glimmer Twins, Keith Richards, wallowed in drug-and-alcohol excess to the point where he was on death-watch lists over a half-century ago.
These characteristics are nowhere to be found on the new Rolling Stones 60th-anniversary tribute album, Stoned Cold Country, consisting of 14 Stones classics by artists, both new and not. With a couple of exceptions, the choices in songs, arrangements, and performances play it safe and sound like a Stones setlist aimed at stadium crowds hungry to be fed their nostalgia back to them. Promoted as “reimagined versions”, Stoned Cold Country is anything but, choosing instead to come off as a semi-rowdy karaoke night out along Broadway.
Most of the choices here date from the peak years of 1968 to 1972, the era with the most influence on current country music, and the years when the Rolling Stones started experimenting most explicitly with the genre by way of Keith Richards’ hanging out with Gram Parsons. That said, Stoned Cold Country represents the most overplayed hits on classic rock radio. They are all great songs, but they seem to have been chosen by whatever had the highest stream count. What’s more, the arrangements of these warhorses rarely vary beyond faithful recreations, except for an added texture here and a different intro there.
Brooks and Dunn have made a career out of songs that sound like offshoots of “Honky Tonk Women”, and their version of one of the most overcovered bar band songs of all time sounds exactly like you imagine it does. Jamie Allen handles “Miss You” (the most recent song here) well enough, as his voice and phrasing rise to the occasion. Still, the performance lacks the intensity of the original. The narrator is unhinged, wandering central park, his sanity questioned by passersby. Allen’s delivery here is too mannered and considered to evoke such reactions.
In the plus column, the Osborne Brothers and the War and Treaty inject southern Pentecostal revival energy into “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)”, Maren Morris wrings out just the right amount of attitude from “Dead Flowers”, and Steve Earle naturally has the gravitas needed for a heart-torn “Angie”.
That country music’s relationship with the Rolling Stones reaches across decades is a given. Even the parents of some of the youngest artists here were children if they were even born when the British bad boys played their first gig. In 1997, another country tribute album dedicated to this subject, Stone Country paired country legends and current hitmakers with Stones classics. For that collection, reliance was still heavy on hits, but there was a wider scope. There are no revelations on Stoned Cold Country like Nanci Griffith’s sublime treatment of “No Expectations”, or George Jones’ fitting “Time Is on My Side”, for example.
Frustratingly for either collection, no choices venture beyond Some Girls. That leaves some 45 years of unexplored music. Consider what a country artist could do with “Waiting For a Friend”, “Almost Hear You Sigh”, and even “Saint of Me”. Is it wrong to ask for a bit of adventure and crate digging?
For an example of how you compile a tribute album to the Rolling Stones, look no further than Paint it Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones (This Ain’t No Tribute), also from 1997. Blues heavyweights from Junior Wells to Taj Mahal and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown turn the Jagger/Richards canon inside out. Exhibit A is Luther Allison’s roof-searing take on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, which, I suppose, would have been an apropos subtitle for Stoned Cold Country.