Another fascinating insight into the working mindset of one of the greatest rock storytellers.
No matter how sleek his suits are, when Stewart shakes his derriere on-stage, a perky youth who used to sing “Shake” back in the day peeks through the cracks in the gloss. To many of his long-time fans, though, once this mischievous smiler crossed the Atlantic, Rod The Mod was effectively over, his albums for Mercury remaining the Scotsman’s crown jewels. But as this collection of pieces – some scattered around singles and compilations, some missing even from the “Sessions” box – from that glorious era shows, there’s always been a crooner behind the rocker’s facade.
In 1973, he shaped Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” an exquisitely swaying precursor to the veteran’s “Great American Songbook” series of the noughties, much more convincingly than Etta James’ classic “I’d Rather Go Blind” a year before, its alternative version too relaxed where desperation is due. Yet then, pure blues aren’t Rod’s forte, so here he takes a run-through of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel” further into the lachrymose, if larynx-tearing, balladry lore, unlike “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Man” which, adorned with Ric Grech’s fiddle, got gradually manned up during 1974, especially in comparison with another Carole King’s creation, the percussive “Oh! No Not My Baby” that features strings and FACES.
But there’s another transatlantic parallel going from Rod’s take on Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North County” that, in a raw variant, lands firm on the British soil with its “Scarborough Fair” roots, whereas an early, lyrics-trying and name-lacking, attempt of “Maggie May” lays bare its original Dylanism which vaporised by the time the song was aired on BBC, its boisterous live recording appearing here for the first time. The same bold appropriation characterizes Stewart’s lively go at Bobby Womack’s boogie “It’s All Over Now” and a soulful Beeb cut of Elton John’s “Country Comforts” but, while these are rather polished even in the non-LP form, the sweep of “Pinball Wizard” blows them out of the water and sounds completely out of the “Rarities” context, even though now the completists won’t have to buy the orchestral reworking of THE WHO’s “Tommy” only to have Rod’s part. Much more revealing Stewart’s method is on the fantastic “You Wear It Well” where the singer, in full command of his stellar band, delivers a different set of words that give meaning to the piece’s title. It’s a real treat, to hear half of “Never A Dull Moment” in a new way.
The depth of Rod’s carving to a song’s core can also be measured by the majestic “Think I’ll Pack My Bags” with Ian McLagan’s organ, a tentative sketch for “Mystifies Me” that would appear on Ron Wood’s solo debut, as well as by two versions of “So Tired” and its rougher spin-off “Missed You” riding Pete Sears‘ stride piano. Elsewhere, Stewart infuses STEALERS WHEEL’s “You Put Something Better Inside Of Me” with magical, spiritual solemnity so palpable in the acoustic rendition, yet Labi Siffre’s “Crying Laughing Loving Lying” basks in the electric kind of a Scottish glory. It took the veteran many years to recapture such a brilliance of which this double CD is a great reminder, In Rod Stewart’s own words, there’s never a dull moment here.