Amidst all the hoopla surrounding the publication of Keith Richards' autobiography, Life, the best music he's made in 30 years has been largely ignored. It's a shame because the new project says a lot about the guitarist's musical life outside the Rolling Stones.
When I heard that Keith lived in Jamaica, I imagined him jamming, smoking, and drinking with the locals long into the night, playing some bluesified version of reggae. Turns out I was right. For years, Keith and a band of similarly-spirited Jamaicans—that he's dubbed the "Wingless Angels"—have been getting together at his house and playing a gospel/blues/reggae hybrid that hits a sweet spot between "I Just Want to See His Face" and dub reggae.
A new CD, Wingless Angels II, was produced by Richards and recorded at his home, and like the best field recordings, it documents a group of people making music for the sheer joy of it and transports the listener to their world. With round-the-campfire vocals and pulsing drums augmented by Richards' crooked chords and bent blue notes, the songs are heartbeat slow, or slower, a perfect tempo for sacred music that sways more than it swings. Call it jah-spel. Richards sounds completely at ease in this setting, and his playing on gems such as "Beautiful River," "Shady Tree," and "Oh What a Joy" is nothing less than transcendent.
As a result, Wingless Angels is a revelation. It's certainly a chapter in Richards' life that deserves more attention.