"Louder!" says Keith Richards, raising his index finger as he peers into a sound booth at New York's Electric Lady Studios. Soon, "Crosseyed Heart," a raw Delta-blues stomp, blares from the speakers. The room is filled with the sound of Richards' fingerpicked acoustic guitar and familiar growl as he sings about juggling two lovers at once (opening line: "I love my sugar, but I love my honey too").
Richards, looking stadium-ready in a snakeskin jacket, is holding a listening session for Crosseyed Heart (due September 18th), his first solo album since 1992's Main Offender, which was recorded with his band the X-Pensive Winos. Crosseyed Heart is a more intimate album: Richards played the majority of the instruments himself, and showed off his musical personalities — including hard-luck rock & roll ("Trouble," "Something for Nothing"), horn-steeped Memphis soul ("Lover's Plea") and gorgeous after-hours ballads ("Just a Gift"). "Some of that you can't always express with the Stones, you know what I mean?" says Richards. "It's another outlet. I mean, I hadn't realized it's been 20-odd years since I've done this. Time flies!"
One highlight is "Illusion," a soulful heartbreak duet with Norah Jones. "She gave me exactly the right feeling we needed," Richards says. "I'm always looking for songs where I can bring a lady in."
Richards started the album around 2011, while the Rolling Stones were on a long break following their Bigger Bang tour. Bored, he began scheduling New York studio time with an old friend and collaborator, drummer Steve Jordan. ("We had a blast," Jordan says.) They met sporadically over the next three years, with Richards layering guitars, piano and bass before recruiting "top cats" like former Winos guitarist Waddy Wachtel and pianist Ivan Neville, along with Stones touring alums Bernard Fowler and Blondie Chaplin, to polish the tracks. "It was such a gas to be playing together again," says Wachtel. "It was a party."
The album will be accompanied by a documentary, Under the Influence, directed by Morgan Neville and premiering September 18th on Netflix, in which Richards discusses influences, makes pilgrimages to spots like Nashville's Ryman Auditorium and visits Buddy Guy at his club in Chicago. "I started with a premise: If you want to understand Keith, look at the music," says Neville. "In a life full of tumult, it's the one thing that's always been true."
"If I can pull the guys together, I would love to do a couple of shows."
The Stones wrapped the U.S. leg of their Zip Code Tour in July, and Richards says they will tour South America next in February. But he may play live sooner — he's currently weighing whether to hit the road himself with some of the Winos. "Suddenly, I have this extra spread of time," he says. "I'm thinking about it. If I can pull the guys together, I would love to do a couple of shows."