ROD STEWART An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (Mercury)

ROD STEWART Never A Dull Moment (Mercury)

I spotted these, from last year’s "Rod Stewart - The Classic Years" remastering blitz, for a derisory 3.99 each on CD (relax, they were for a friend!) in the Virgin sale, and darn good they are too. "An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down" is Rod’s solo debut, following his ‘vocals extraordinaire’ appearances on the first two Jeff Beck albums and released a month before his first album with The Faces. The songs include "Street Fighting Man", Dylan’s "Man Of Constant Sorrow", "Dirty Old Town", Mike D’Abo’s magnificent "Handbags & Gladrags" and enough gutsy originals to make the album’s chart non-appearance a mystery.

"Never A Dull Moment" was the follow-up to the essential "Every Picture Tells A Story", and marks the beginning of the career slide that would reduce Roderick to a parody of his former greatness - as Greil Marcus said, "Rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely". Yes, "Never A Dull Moment" does contain the line (from "Italian Girls") "Was I feeling kinda silly when I stepped in some Caerphilly", but it also boasts Dylan’s "Mama You Been On My Mind", Hendrix’s "Angel" and "You Wear It Well", surely the best Stewart composition that isn’t "Maggie May".

Both discs are ‘newly re-mastered’ with ‘original artwork’, which I suppose must mean that they’re now only very poor substitutes to decent original vinyl pressings of these albums rather than shoddy overpriced rush-jobs taken from dodgy copy masters with say-nowt flimsy booklets. (Incidentally, have you noticed that, now that the novelty value (such that it was) has gone out of CD, The Man is seeking to revive Joe Public’s interest in buying material he’s already got by continually giving it the whizz-bang reissue remaster repackage treatment? The Led Zeppelin back catalogue seems to be coming back out every six months these days!). Rant over, these are both great albums at silly prices, Branson be praised!

ROD STEWART Gasoline Alley (Mercury)

Rod the former Mod was still some distance from household name ubiquity on the release of this, his second solo album, in 1970. The title track provides stirring evidence of his early compositional chops, blessed with a full-blooded, evocative arrangement that’s also a daring exercise in restraint. More folk than rock, with its tingling, tickling mandolin, it’s a “Dirty OldTown” for the post-industrial age (a song that, coincidentally enough, Stewart had covered on his debut). Mr Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” is given the kind of country honk drubbing he’d later mete out to “That’s All Right”. Dylan’s “Only A Hobo” finds him exercising a facility for folk that makes it a shame that he couldn’t find any Woody Guthrie in his great American songbook, the band supporting him with a delicately modulated flow and tumble. The pop, R&B and soul of The Small Faces’ “My Way of Giving” are here smelted into solid rock – over twice the length of the economical original, there’s still not a moment of indulgence. Arriving in record shops ahead of the “Tumbleweed Connection” original, “Country Comfort” outdistances the desperate pining for an old West he never personally experienced that slightly hobbles Elton’s version, falling naturally within this geographically indeterminate but deeply rootsy soundworld Rod’s carved.

After such a bravura beginning, “Gasoline Alley” fumbles slightly during its later laps. It’s never less than enjoyable and entertaining, but the weakening quality of the material is apparent. There’s still some deliciously organic arrangements and spontaneous musicianship on display, though – the flat clatter of Kenney Jones’ drums against some smoky-toned country fiddle on “Cut Across Shorty”, for example, is fabulous – as well as, naturally, Rod’s inimitable gargling-with-hot-gravel vocals. The staggering, juddering “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want To Discuss It)” recalls the apprenticeship he served in Jeff Beck’s group.

Much of the formula that would soon bubble over, not unlike a champagne supernova, was already in place. “Gasoline Alley” is the sound of an artist caught thrillingly in the ascendant, an exploratory arc that would peak on “Every Picture Tells A Story” and arguably decline from that point onwards. That mix of dazzlingly rearranged covers and sympathetic, seamless originals; the ultimate loose but tight ensemble (featuring past, present and future members of The Faces, Small Faces, The Who, Jefferson Starship and The Rolling Stones, it’s a supergroup by any other name) that makes Led Zeppelin look like a bunch of laboratory boffins on a field trip – it can all be found here, and, arguably, in varying degrees of potency, throughout Rod’s entire Mercury catalogue.

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