RHYME AND REASON RECORDS LLC
Bernard Fowler has, for the last 30 years, been The Rolling Stones’ chief backing singer. He’s a journeyman vocalist that’s worked with Tackhead and Little Axe among others. And one day, during the Stones’ 2015 tour, Fowler stepped up at a soundcheck to deliver a tongue-in-chic rendition of one of his money-gig’s deep back-cat songs. He turned a relatively obscure Rolling Stones tune into beat poetry and Mick and the boys thought it was pretty cool and clever and gave him their blessing.
So here – now – we have an album of Rolling Stones songs arranged and performed by Fowler as if he was fronting a Black Panthers convention. His delivery pure Gil Scott-Heron and Lost Poets.
And if that sounds odd, it is. And if it doesn’t instantly sound great or interesting then you really do need to check it out. It’s the incongruous hit of the year. Fowler takes lesser-known Stones songs for the most part (Time Waits For No One, Dancing With Mr D, Sister Morphine) and no less than four from the underrated Undercover album. But most Stones songs are not about the word, not about the power of the words. And somehow Fowler cuts to a core many of us would have ignored, or not known to look and listen for.
It helps that he has some of his session-great backing band-mates and Stones affiliates (Steve Jordan from Keef’s band is on drums for instance) to churn butter-soul grooves beneath. And he only stumbles once. On the biggest known hit. His reading of Sympathy For The Devil cannot improve on the original – particularly since the samba-sway of a fine percussion-line is already in place. Fowler’s left to sound a little silly, like a scene from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where Titus might be auditioning for the world’s weirdest musical.
That slight false-step aside the album’s a keeper. Big time. And Fowler seems to imbue spirit in songs you never knew or forgot about straight away – All The Way Done, Must Be Hell and Undercover of the Night in particular all shine. Not only that he taps into a contemporary relevance, putting the storytelling front and centre when so much of The Stones’ live majesty has been about Mick dancing the story as much as singing it, and about whatever happens deep in the pocket formed between Keef’s right hand and Charlie’s right foot.
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