Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ROD STEWART: A HOPEFULLY HELPFUL GUIDE TO RECENT RELEASES

It seems like there's been a deluge of Rod Stewart releases over the past decade or so.  I'm here to help!  I've gone through a lot of the recent stuff to give you the low-down. I have mixed feelings about Rod. On one hand, he is one of the greatest singers in rock or pop music in the past fifty years, no question. On the other, he also seems like one of the laziest. He just doesn't seem to try hard anymore -- just my opinion.  I can't think of many artists with a farther gap between their classic stuff and their worst stuff. And it's not even like Bowie, where at least he is ambitious. Of course, Rod has a better voice, and probably like Sinatra and a lot of singers of that era, sometimes just stepping up to the mic and singing is enough.


I recently picked up The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971 - 1998, a 4 CD box set from Rhino that ostensibly gives an "alternate" history of what might have been in Rod's career, and also posts the theory that there isn't as much of a difference between the Rod of 1971 and the Rod of 1998. I gotta disagree with that. I have no doubt that Rod always wanted to be the biggest star in the world, and that's what he was aiming for -- not some kind of credibility that would please music critics. There are some real gems in this box set, spanning the entire '71-'98 period. A lot of it is stripped down versions of songs that made his albums, like his cover of The Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart Of Mine" and The Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody." And other stuff like his cover of Buddy Holly's "Maybe Baby" which was previously unreleased, as well as his version of Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would" (also covered by The Yardbirds). It also has a previously unreleased version of Bob Dylan's "Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar," from a previously unreleased 1992 album Once In A Blue Moon (which was shelved in favor of his MTV Unplugged... and Seated album. Incidentally, that album has just been released this week, exclusively at Rhino.com. My verdict is, I probably shouldn't have spent $60 on this because I'm not a big enough fan, but if you are, you'll like it. If you're just starting out with Rod, I would recommend instead the 1990 4-CD box set Storyteller, which has most of his biggest hits, plus some Jeff Beck Group and Faces material, and some lesser known stuff as well. If you don't want to dive in that deep, The Definitive Rod Stewart is a more recent 2 CD set. If you really want to hear Rod rocking, get The Faces career spanning 4 CD box set, Five Guys Walk Into A Bar. A shorter version is the single CD best-of Good Boys... When They're Asleep.


Rod's latest album, Soulbook, also released late last year, is the latest in a series of thematic covers albums. Of course, there is his Great American Songbook series, which yielded four volumes between 2002 and 2005 and saw him singing Sinatra-esque standards. It also saw him returning to multi-platinum sales, in an era where few of his peers could pull that off. I can't say that I'm very familiar with these albums, as I'm not a fan of the material. I did check out his 2006 album, Still The Same... Great Rock Classics Of Our Time. It probably should have been called "great SOFT rock classics.." because most of the songs were middle of the road mid-tempo songs. I'm not mad at that though: he's so great at singing that kind of thing. Even though he doesn't sound like he's breaking a sweat, he still does a great job on some of the tunes, like Bob Seger's title track and Van Morisson's "Crazy Love."

Soulbook is a bit like Motown or soul night on American Idol. Fine, but nothing you'd really want to buy, and the versions don't add anything to the original versions. The backing band, produced by Steve Jordan, sounds very L.A. There are a few guests on the album: Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Mary J. Blige and Jennifer Hudson, but it's not a duets album. If's fine, but it's hard to see the point. On one hand, it would be phony for Rod to record these songs like it was 1960-whatever, but on the other hand, it's just a bit (or more than a bit) too smooth. If you want to hear new takes on Motown classics, I suggest the Standing In The Shadows Of Motown soundtrack, which features MeShell NdegeOcello, Ben Harper, Bootsy Collins and Joan Osborne re-interpreting the label's classics (backed by the surviving members of the original house band, The Funk Brothers).

What's next for Rod? It seems like a Faces reunion isn't going to happen - I doubt Rod wants to deal with Ronnie Wood 's antics. I've read that he might be interested in working with Jeff Beck again. Beck actually told Rolling Stone that he'd be interested, but only if it was a serious album, not "a weekend blues album" (which is probably how Jeff would rate a Rod blues album in 2010). I've also heard that Rod would love to collaborate with The Black Keys, which is probably the coolest thing that he could do at this point. He should listen to Buddy Guy's Dirt Floor and B.B. King 's One Kind Favor, and then get with the Keys and make an awesome album. For now, we have the recordings of when he actually was awesome.

2 comments:

Janice said...

I can't think of too many artists with a farther gap between their classic stuff and their worst stuff. And it's not even like Bowie, where at least he is ambitious.

Minority said...

Hi, Janice, thanks for reading and contributing to my blog. I couldn't agree with you more. Rod is may well be the laziest legend still making music today. The same could sometimes be said for Elton, but at least he still puts out some great stuff like "The One" in the '90s and "Songs From The West Coast" in the '00s. The latter is a classic in my mind. I've heard that Rod may work with The Black Keys - that could possibly be good, and it's sort of the only thing I could think of that could yield a good Rod album. thanks again Janice, come back soon!