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REVIEW: Ben Waters Boogie 4 Stu
Boogie pianist Ben Waters has scored big with his tribute to late Stones keyboardist, and often forgotten about, original member Ian Andrew Robert Stewart.
Waters himself is unknown to many in the US, despite his ferocious playing and precision boogie piano style. For this album, he's brought together a roster of Stones and other talent that percolates interest just from reading. The first track is a solo piano number with Waters taking a quiet run through a song that makes the record start off feeling very slow. Boogie Woogie Stomp lacks stomp altogether, but does provide a chance for Waters to show off his formidable keyboard skills. The laid back, almost New Orleans Sunday afternoon-ish feel is a constant; it tends to maintain that energy throughout. This is mostly mellow stuff, and great background for a cocktail party that lacks a live band.
Rooming House Boogie features Keith Richards and Bill Wyman, together again, via Ben, on a slamming nugget with Keith roaring like he should, and bass in the pocket, from the monster that dealt out the bottom for the Stones until 1992, and now tours with his Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, selectively going outside Europe... It's a traditional bluesy boogie number, and it's great to get a shot of Keef the pirate working his distinctive blues-rock inspired guitar riffs with one of the greatest bassists ever in rock. Plus, Bill Wyman has an extraordinary grasp of the blues, which he's written about and dug into extensively. It's felt on this track.
Worried Life Blues keeps Keith around and adds Charlie Watts, Ron Wood and Jools Holland, among others. Oh boy. The star power gets a bit heavy here. Excuse me, do you have the right pass for this area? The original Toxic Twins trade lead vocals and the dirty smoky blues is dealt with equally steely and plucked-sounding guitar work.
On the title track, Boogie For Stu has Charlie Watts on the drums for a bit of consistency -- he's on no less than six of the ten cuts. The man still cuts a mean groove and all the respect in the world to him for sticking with the game after all these years. The beats he's doing today are completely in-line with the direction he's sought personally through the last few decades, with his jazz-flavored side-projects and efforts outside the Stones.
Charlie stays with the program and Jools Holland is back (ex-Squeeze, has a TV show in England... you know Jools, right?). The party continues with another move to the late-night hotel bar, and more of that mix. Jools is the guy for the lounge singer job, too. He shines up front on lead vocals on this one. Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor. And snappy, please.
Mr. Watts is still with us for the instrumental blues number Midnight Blues. It meanders and again, transports you to the hotel lounge in the sky... it's smoky (you can't have that anymore indoors, unless it's fake smoke with dry ice or something). It's for the reflective moments, exploring memories, thinking things over... Midnight Blues makes a wonderful transition to Lonely Avenue's sultry spookiness. Ben's related to PJ Harvey, who is his cousin and appears on Lonely Avenue. The woman is stellar. Just that whispering, haunting voice cues you to her presence. It's like... the cats hair stands on end, the lightning starts with no thunder, and the clock wants to go backward. The woman is downright spooky... I still remember watching her mesmerize at Avalon, or was it at the Orpheum, in Boston? She's serious business.
From Mick's belting out "What's the matter with me?" you know "Watching The River Flow" is going to be explosive. Perhaps it's because you cheated, and read the inside CD jacket thoroughly, however, and were patiently waiting like a foaming mad-dog restrained, contemplating this Stones tour de force. It is a showstopper, and this is the sole track featuring this supergroup Stones reunion line-up jamming with Ben. Fans will have to make due with repeat listenings to this treasure. Yes, it really does feature, on one track -- Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts. It really is crazy... These people are taunting you, without question. One song is simply not enough with this kind of superb coalition of Stones. It is monstrous and worth the time.
Where do you go from there? Smartly, Waters' lets people down gently, with Roll 'Em Pete and the Rolling Stones rhythm section still reunited, and savagely demonstrating why the world continues to heap accolades on them for the contributions they've made. Bill Wyman, a kind wonderful man, joined by his life friend Charlie Watts, backing Ben with nice horn work providing some propulsion.
We started out at the hotel bar, and spent a great deal of time there, so Waters drops you off where you started, with another tasty solo piano piece, Suitcase Blues. It's a treat to listen to him nail the notes, obviously a gifted player. Currently doing some dates live with Charlie Watts, these legendary Stones figures make the Boogie With Stu: A Tribute to Ian Stewart a cool listen. But, the record has a sweet bonus: the final track is Ian Stewart live from 1984, at the Montreux Jazz Festival with Rocket 88. You'd swear it was Ben Waters, as his style so closely emulates Ian Stewart. Stewart died in 1985, so this recording is a fitting and classy way to close out the album.