Is the brightness back?
Mercury/Mobile Fidelity MOFI 1-016 "silver label series" LP
Produced by: Rod Stewart and Lou Reizner
Engineered by: N/A
Mixed by: N/A
Mastered by: Krieg Wunderlich
Mo-Fi Reissues Peak, Sentimental Rod
by Michael Fremer
April 01, 2012
While still with The Jeff Beck Group, Rod Stewart signed as a solo artist with Lou Reizner, an American Mercury Records producer living in the UK at the time, who had his ear to the musical firmament.
An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down (VO4) on the now highly collectible Vertigo label was issued first in America in late 1969 as The Rod Stewart Album on Mercury, with lame "invitation" cover art similar to what The Rolling Stones were forced into on Beggar's Banquet. The UK version came winter of 1970 with far more eclectic and interesting cover art.
Gasoline Alley, the second album produced by Stewart and Reizner was the one that really jump started Rod's solo career (the first album has more Rod originals and is also worthy of a reissue).
Again, it was felt that the original album art was not suitable for American kids, but it was so far superior and more evocative of the album title (you be the judge):
For some reason American Mercury dug showing Rod as snookered. He looks out of it on the back of the American version of Gasoline Alley and on the inside too. And check out his out of it look on his fourth Merc solo album Never a Dull Moment. The inside of the UK gatefold features a handsome shot of Rod reclining in some hot red slacks. Don't ask me why American Mercury chose to show Stewart as a drunk. Maybe Mercury was pushing a Dean Martin vibe for Rod?
Forgive the artwork digression: this album shows off both Stewart's prodigious and original singing talent, drawn from but not imitative of Sam Cooke, and Mr. Reizner's A&R talents. The song choices were superb for an album designed to be an intimate, folky showcase for the singer and the backup band, the core of which was The Small Faces without Steve Marriott (my favorite rock singer of all time with Paul Rodgers second) who had quit to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, plus from The Jeff Beck group, Ron Wood, who would later join up to form Faces fronted by Stewart and on some tracks the late drummer Mikey Waller.
So you could look at this as the Faces audition tape and what an audition! Reizner and Stewart went for a countrified rock sound, adding mandolin on the title track and violin on some others. The Stewart originals, "Gasoline Alley," "Lady Day," and "Jo's Lament" fit the scene as do the smartly chosen covers, including Bobby Womack's "It's All Over Now" best known to the rock audience from The Rolling Stones cover. Here it's delivered as a folksy, syncopated celebration more than as an F.U. song and so dilutes the message.
"Only a Hobo" was a cast off from Dylan's 1963 recordings for The Times They Are a-Changin' album (it was originally one of the Witmark demo songs that probably circulated among A&R guys like Reizner) and though Dylan later recorded it again, Stewart's version is definitive. His performance here alone makes this album worth owning.
The side ends with a cover of The Small Faces' Marriott-Lane composition "My Way of Giving" and while it doesn't hold a candle to Marriott's impassioned, high energy original, it has its own charms and with the back up of Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones joined by Wood, was really the first song released by Faces. What a side!
Side two opens with "Country Comfort," the John/Taupin song that probably inspired the album's musical concept. While it is enjoyable, the message it sends is: "don't cover Elton because he does it better." "Cut Across Shorty" was the rocking "B" side of the Eddie Cochran #1 single in the UK "Three Steps to Heaven" and could have been suggested for inclusion on the album by either Stewart or Reizner or both since Cochran was a big star in the UK.
Stewart's "Lady Day" (not about Billie Holiday) presages the theme of "Maggie May" as do elements of "Jo's Lament." The two show Rod's soggy sentimental side to great effect.
The album ends with the only rocker, the oft-covered one chord riffer "You're My Girl (I Don't Want to Discuss It)" highlighted by Ron Wood's soft/slash rhythm guitar.
There's not a musical dud on the record and with that back up band so cleanly and elegantly arranged, there's more to hear and appreciate with each play as your ear digs into the backdrop nooks and crannies.
The musical intimacy and comraderie intended by the producers is amplified by the recorded sound. The miking is close and free of processing. It's an honest, you might say somewhat primitive "what you tape is what you get" recording that's appealing in today's overprocessed world, but it's also not without its problems.
For one thing, there's little in the way of a bottom end foundation. It will not rock your world sonically. You have to draw yourself into the picture because it's not coming looking for you. The drums and bass have a slightly cardboardy sound, but that's kind of the way Kenney Jones tunes his kit. However the same kit recorded by Glynn Johns on Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (the round tobacco tin album) is mind-blowingly well recorded and will knock you on your butt. That album has some of the deepest bass ever put in a rock record's grooves ( but only on an original UK Immediate pressing). But I digress again!
Most importantly, Rod's voice is intimate and in the room. You'll hear every rasp-inducing node on his vocal cords and that's a good thing. Mo-Fi's mastering from a non-original source (hence the silver edition) is very, very good with one exception: there are a few really smeary sibilents, particularly on "Only a Hobo." I don't hear them on the original. One is really bad. I can't track it on my turntable, which is "pretty good" so I don't expect yours will fare much better. Deal with it, though I suggest Mo-Fi consider a "de-esser" in the future for highly sibilent vocals.
Since there isn't a great deal of bottom end on the record, I find that mid-level listening produces the best sonic results. If you play it too loud it can sound thin. Too soft and the Fletcher-Munson curve robs it of any bottom (unless you have a "loudness" button). Mid-level sounds best.
Still, compared to the UK original, this reissue is a bit thin and lacking in warmth the original has. It's kind of a trade off: the original is more inviting and "of a whole" and this reissue provides more detail, greater instrumental and vocal separation (the background vocal on "Country Comfort" has never sounded so distinct and separated in space, for instance). Considering the original tape wasn't available, it's a very good mastering job overall (other than the difficult sibilents).
Mo-Fi went with the original American artwork that doesn't hold up to the UK Vertigo outside and particularly on the inside, which is incredibly ugly, though there are a few good studio shots.
While the guy soiled himself later to become a pop star with junk like "Hot Legs" and the rest, this album shows Rod Stewart at his most sincere.
Second irrelevant aside: co-producer Reizner was also responsible for a bizarre 1976 debacle called "All This and World War II" a grotesque film that combined stock WW III footage with songs by The Beatles interpreted by others including Elton John (with John Lennon using a pseudonym), The Bee Gees, Rod Stewart (not surprisingly), Jeff Lynne, The Four Seasons and Helen Reddy (!), Peter Gabriel Roy Wood and The London Symphony Orchestra (which did "The End"), among others.
So I got invited to the Boston premier and a group of us figured this would be great to see on acid. So we dropped and went. Well, on acid every molecule had meaning and brilliance. After all, when you're seeing the entire universe and God and hearing Beatles songs while watching things being blown up (including your mind), how could it not be the most meaningful film ever?
So the next day I told every movie and film critic in town that I knew, and I knew many, that they must go see it! So I went again and sat behind them, this time sober.
It took about about five minutes to realize what a big mistake I'd made. Ten minutes in they began turning around and asking me as if I was out of my mind. "That was last night!" I told them and we all got up and walked out, me really embarrassed, they really pissed!
Anyway, the Rod album is great and I promise I didn't listen or write this review on acid!
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