Exile redux: What a beautiful buzz!

I’m seldom one to vaunt a digitized re-release of an analog recording, but the Rolling Stones’ renovated Exile on Main Street is marvelous. If you have never experienced the magisterially murky, smoking evocation of Americana that the Stones captured in the basement of a French chateau and in studios in London and Los Angeles way back in the early 1970s, here’s your chance for satisfaction. There’s good reason the new release is currently the Number 1 CD in the United Kingdom.

The re-mastering of the original album is splendid (even if, as Keith Richards correctly argues, it’s unnecessary.) However, the selection of 10 outtakes and alternate versions is worth the price of admission. In re-working this material, Mick Jagger has reclaimed whatever is left of his artistic soul (not to mention, his voice). Like large parts of The Beatles Anthology, the result makes this Exile more like a new release than a re-hash.

If you figured the Stones had absolutely spit the bit out (I know I had), you might be surprised. As Ben Ratliff, a writer from The New York Times, maintains, the alternate take of “Loving Cup” is perhaps the best track in Stones history. He’s not kidding. On that track, Jagger effectively channels both Muddy Waters and Hank Williams. Charlie Watts’ drumming defies description.

As for The Keef himself, he might be a digital skeptic, as that fascinating article by the aforementioned Ratliff reveals, but his own vocal performance on an early version of “Soul Survivor” is a drawling, semi-improvised, book-marking joy. Only Keith Richards could make repeatedly growling ‘Et cetera!’  into primordial rock ‘n roll.

The Stones have traditionally been slow to plumb their own archive. Further, the early “re-mastered” CD releases of their 60s and 70s LPs were sometimes an audiophile’s nightmare. This re-release, however, shows the possibilities of a harmonious marriage of analog original and digital post-production by the likes of Don Was and mature artists such as Jagger and Richards.