Paul Lewis listens to Stoned Cold Country, Nashville’s tribute to the 60th Anniversary of The Rolling Stones and their influence on the world of country music.
I’m generally sceptical about tribute albums – thoughtfully curated examples seem outnumbered by rather more opportunistic compilations which are actually just a bunch of disparate tracks, some or all often pre-existing, put together with little thought of a coherent listening experience or artistic purpose.
I’m pleased to say that is most definitely not the case with Stoned Cold Country, an album of reimagined versions of The Rolling Stones’ catalogue from some of country music’s biggest names. It’s produced by acclaimed Nashville-based producer Robert Deaton, perhaps best known as the executive producer of the CMA Awards and CMA Country Christmas, and father of Chris Deaton of the band King Calaway.
When I first heard of the album, and the first track released from it – the Brothers Osborne and The War & Treaty’s terrific cover of “It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It)” – the signs were good, that this would be a strong and coherent tribute worthy of its source and the artists involved. The next tracks released, Elvie Shane’s “Sympathy For The Devil” and Lainey Wilson’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” very much confirmed that optimism.
Now the whole album has arrived, and it doesn’t disappoint. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s an absolute gold standard in tribute albums.
It’s a thoughtfully constructed collection of generally familiar Stones songs, covered beautifully by a range of country artists, delivering a hugely enjoyable listening experience which works as a whole and should appeal to country and Stones fans alike. To a fan of both, it is an absolute joy. Huge credit must go to producer Deaton, for curating the album into something that is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a powerful, consistent album of songs with a distinct country funk/soul vibe running throughout.
For anyone who doesn’t already know, there is a strand of country DNA running right through The Rolling Stones catalogue. Gram Parsons was a close and influential friend, who Mick Jagger credited with helping him find a way to put their own mark on country music, rather than just copying it from records. And their albums are littered with their own country, or country influenced, songs throughout their career. “Honky Tonk Women” was first heard as “Country Honk” on “Let It Bleed” before being redone in the style so well known today. Many others across the years including “Wild Horses”, “Dead Flowers”, “Sweet Virginia”, “Faraway Eyes” and “Waiting On A Friend” maintained that country influence.
So a country tribute is a perfect fit. But this is all the more interesting as it doesn’t just take the “obvious” Stones country material, it features a wide cross section of their songs – and, if anything, shows how that country DNA ran deeper than may have been obvious at the time, through a set of often stunning, sometimes unexpected performances.
The coherence also belies how the artists featured cover a range of country styles themselves – for example, I was uncertain how Little Big Town & Maren Morris might fit in this context and company, but their interpretations of “Wild Horses” and “Dead Flowers” respectively sit seamlessly in there, evoking the rootsier side of their own music.
All the artists are distinctively themselves, putting their own trademarks onto these songs – but, just as the Stones themselves could cover a broad range of musical styles, the whole project retains a coherence. Deaton apparently spent several years pulling this together and in his words, it is “A love letter to The Rolling Stones from Nashville,” – a toast to not only one of the best bands to ever do it, but specifically to their supreme influence on the past and present world of Country music, and more specifically some of its most convention busting contemporary artists.
A few specific highlights for me are Lainey Wilson’s aforementioned, stunning delivery of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, a perfect marriage of what makes both Lainey & The Stones so special; Elvie Shane’s compelling & powerful “Sympathy For The Devil”, a perfect blend of Stones and country; Maren Morris’s “Dead Flowers”, which has a strong “country funk” feel; Eric Church doing what he does best, on what is the perfect song for him – an incendiary “Gimme Shelter”, and The Brothers Osborne & The War & Treaty’s take on “It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It)”, starting with a slow, soulful feel before building quickly and taking off, with some fabulous brass coming into the second half, adding to the country funk/soul vibe.
The album works so beautifully as a piece, and it’s some of the more surprising tracks that add immeasurably to it. I came to Steve Earle’s take on “Angie” thinking I would probably hear a typical “acoustic guitar troubadour” performance, so it was a lovely surprise to discover his soulful, piano driven rendition.
Little Big Town do a tremendous job on a sultry, largely acoustic take on “Wild Horses”, with stunning harmonies. Brooks & Dunn rock & positively swing their way through “Honky Tonk Women” with more energy and power than I was expecting, including a terrific guitar break in the second half. Jimmie Allen’s tremendous take on “Miss You” puts a fine country twist on one of the less obvious song choices in this context, retaining some of the original feel but making it very much his own (leaving me wondering why I ever doubted it was a country song!). And Koe Wetzel wraps things up with a wonderful soulful, distinctly gospel tinged “Shine A Light”. It’s country soul at its finest and a perfect ending to the album, bringing it to a close with driving brass and gospel style backing vocals
That leaves Ashley McBryde’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, Elle King’s “Tumbling Dice”, Marcus King’s “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and Zac Brown Band’s “Paint It Black”. All fine versions, just not the standouts for me – perhaps simply because they are less surprising and distinctive.
Lainey Wilson and Zac Brown Band are both appearing on the Main Stage at C2C this year. It would be a real treat if they decided to include their contributions to this album in their sets alongside their own material.
I can’t recommend this album highly enough. If you think you’re not a Stones fan, don’t let that put you off – you may be converted after listening to it. And if anyone reading this thinks they are not a country fan, try it as a way to break any preconceptions about country music. There’s a lot for everyone to love on this terrific record. It does the Stones proud… and it does country music proud too.
Stoned Cold Country will have a special early release on physical media in the UK and Europe to coincide with C2C Country to Country 2023. CD & vinyl will be available from 10th March 2023, while the full album will hit streaming services on 17th March.
Stoned Cold Country – Track listing
1. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – Ashley McBryde
2. “Honky Tonk Women” – Brooks & Dunn
3. “Dead Flowers” – Maren Morris
4. “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)” – Brothers Osborne & The War And Treaty
5. “Miss You” – Jimmie Allen
6. “Tumbling Dice” – Elle King
7. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – Marcus King
8. “Wild Horses” – Little Big Town
9. “Paint It Black” – Zac Brown Band
10. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Lainey Wilson
11. “Sympathy for the Devil” – Elvie Shane
12. “Angie” – Steve Earle
13. “Gimme Shelter” – Eric Church
14. “Shine A Light” – Koe Wetzel