Not Sucking in Their Seventies: Rock Lifers Go the Distance

Keith Richards and Boz Scaggs make strong solo albums, decades into their careers

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We've reached a strange and wondrous moment where if you're in the mood for some Seventies guitar rock, you might end up listening to a new album recorded by a rocker in his seventies. There certainly was no guarantee things would turn out this way, partly because no one ever knew it would all go on this long. But as Keith Richards says every time he steps to center stage during a Stones show, "It's good to be here. Frankly, it's good to be anywhere."

The gag is that at 71, Keith gets credit for standing up. His new solo album, Crosseyed Heart, works the same way: It's the sound of songs not falling apart, music determined to be wobbly and solid at the same moment. There are times it lacks focus (which is to say it lacks Mick Jagger), but there's plenty of snarl and joy, and listening to Richards unfurl Chuck Berry runs in "Blues in the Morning" or joke about his own survival in "Amnesia" is a gas.

When Richards tapped producer-drummer Steve Jordan to help make his first solo album in 1988, they came off as modernists trying to find ways to extend the blues and R&B traditions they loved. Now, 27 years later, they're closer to preservationists. That's exactly the role Jordan helps Boz Scaggs play on A Fool to Care, an album that yields even richer rewards and bigger surprises. A casually superb set of covers (and one bitingly hilarious original called "Hell to Pay," about the state of the nation), it takes as its inspiration the indestructible groove of New Orleans, and works a sonic miracle by capturing the spacious warmth of 1950s classics like Huey "Piano" Smith's "High Blood Pressure."

Like Richards, Scaggs is 71, and both seem to have nothing to prove but their love of the music that made them. At 79, Buddy Guy also has nothing to prove, but his last two albums are mixed bags, overstuffed with bar-band horns and misguided duets (Kid Rock and Keith Urban on 2013's Rhythm and Blues, Joss Stone on the recent Born to Play the Blues). Still, pro-forma blues like "Thick Like Mississippi Mud" jump unexpectedly to life when he unleashes torrents of noise, pushing out into the territory between control and abandon that Jimi Hendrix charted almost 50 years ago.

Hendrix turned the world upside down playing for no one but himself, but we'll never know what his music would been like facing middle age and the pressures of holding on to an audience. The new live double CD Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival is a long and discursive lecture in his endless ability to find new melodic and rhythmic inventions, and it's the closest we'll ever get to Hendrix facing 70: It was recorded in on July 4th, 1970, two months before his death.