Keith Richards documents rock roots in ‘Under the Influence’

18 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Keef’s on a roll with the blues: Richards first solo effort in 20 years is sprawling but spirited.

The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has revealed the rock band has definite plans to record its next work, which will follow 2005 studio album “A Bigger Bang”. “I was in London last week and the boys and I got together.

Toronto gets the first and only big-screen look at Morgan Neville’s documentary “Keith Richards: Under the Influence” at its red-carpet world premiere Thursday, the night before the worldwide release of the film on Netflix, which also coincides with the official release of “Crosseyed Heart” (Republic), the legendary Rolling Stones guitarist’s first solo album in decades. “I growl at everything,” joked Richards, dressed in gold-hued reptile-print jacket and wearing his trademark headband and sunglasses, at a smokefree media conference held in advance of the screening. “(The documentary) wasn’t planned, I didn’t see the point at that particular time, I was busy making a record.” The project, originally intended as a short film related to “Crosseyed Heart,” began with Neville taking a pile of blues, jazz and soul albums to Richards’ house and filming the musician talking about important music from his life for a couple of hours. “Once I got talking to Morgan and he had shot a few things, by then things had taken over, which was the same way with this record,” Richards continued. “Suddenly you realize this thing is bigger than both of you, and you gotta finish it. Like the Mississippi bluesmen whose legacy he still reveres, the raffish 71-year-old will probably rock until he drops, and this sprawling solo effort, his first in more than 20 years, is testimony to his enduring enthusiasm. A treasure for Richards fans, “Influence” uses scenes about tracks on the new album as jumping-off points to reveal key moments from the musician’s past — from early record purchases and the Stones’ encounters with blues legends to the making of the 1987 Chuck Berry doc “Hail! Recorded with his ‘other’ group, the X-Pensive Winos, Crosseyed Heart takes almost an hour to amble through a string of loose-limbed rock, blues and reggae tunes.

Rock ’n’ Roll” and projects with Jamaican musicians and Tom Waits — while weaving in an array of never-before-seen photos and footage from the archives of family, colleagues and friends. “The structure of the whole film is an amble, I think of it like a scrapbook,” Neville said. “So you’re talking about music and life, and you feel like you’ve gone somewhere. Initially, he says, he thought the footage might be used for an electronic press kit. “In the back of our minds, we thought, ‘We’d love to make a Keith Richards documentary.’ But I think if we had gone in saying that, it never would have happened. Helping out are drummer Steve Jordan, a long-term associate, and jazz singer Norah Jones, whose silky vocals dovetail well with Keith’s husky growl on Illusion.

But of course you need a few witnesses.” “The man knows a lot about music,” said Richards, a fan of Neville’s Oscar-winning doc “20 Feet From Stardom” (which he erroneously called “12 Steps From Stardom”). It could only have happened in the backwards way it did happen.” Richards says he had little input into the film, beyond providing Neville with previously unseen home movies. “They worked around me so subtly that I was hardly aware I was making a documentary,” he says. “Literally, I was on the road with the Stones, so I had other priorities. Okay, boys, that’s agreed.’ Where, when – (we) scratch our heads,” Richards said. “I would say off the top of my head after the South American tour in February. Rolling Stones fans will enjoy raunchy rockers Heartstopper, Something For Nothing and Trouble, although one can’t help but wonder how these tracks might have sounded with Mick Jagger’s posturing presence at the helm. Morgan has a way of doing things where he’d just pop in.” Neville won a best-documentary Oscar for 20 Feet From Stardom, his film about backup singers.

Keith’s debt to the blues shines through on an affectionate cover of Lead Belly’s folky waltz Goodnight Irene, while his lifelong admiration for Jamaican music gets an airing on Love Overdue, originally by reggae crooner Gregory Isaacs. I realized the chemistry between people playing together makes the music far more important than anything one can do by oneself — so it’s about community and friendship.” Neville said the experience working with Netflix — “my first time down this road” — has been great. “There’s been a seismic shift in the doc world. Lover’s Plea is a soulful high point, and the throaty tone of Robbed Blind echoes Bob Dylan and Tom Waits: ‘The cops, you know, I can’t involve them,’ he barks, with a hint of outlaw menace. ‘God knows what they might find.’ The guitar work, as befits one of rock’s finest, is excellent. People never knew where to find these films, and Netflix has opened up new audience to these films.” As for “Influence,” what started as a companion to one album may feel to many viewers like a companion to Richards’ bestselling memoir “Life” (2010), co-written with journalist James Fox. There are no riffs here to match those on Satisfaction or Gimme Shelter, but his playing has a natural sensitivity and effortless grace that’s true to his rock ’n’ roll spirit.

Added Neville, “The film and book to me work together, in that they both take the idea of the Keith Richards’ persona and dimensionalize it — there’s a real person who wrote all these songs and played all these songs.” Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour is another British rock legend to be saluted by U.S. magazine Rolling Stone’s list of all-time guitar greats — he was ranked 14th; Richards fourth. Exploring a series of everyday thoughts and emotions, the record is divided between elegiac instrumentals and tighter pop songs with lyrics by Gilmour’s novelist wife Polly Samson. Among the best moments are a title track enhanced by a choir and built around the four-note motif that precedes announcements at French railway stations.

But, while Gilmour’s playing is bright and forceful, jazzy interludes such as The Girl In The Yellow Dress leave this album sounding somewhat disjointed.

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