Rod Stewart "SESSIONS 1971-1998"
The basic history of Rod Stewart's career has always been understood as: working class Scot releases 4 albums of fantastic folk-inspired rock recorded with his mates then ditches it all for L.A. and records with soul-less session cats for an increasingly polished sound and massive commercial success.
Sure there have been promising moments along the way (the 1993 Unplugged performance was superb) but that's pretty much how it went.
Or at least that's how we thought it did.
With the release of Sessions 1971-1998 it's obvious that regardless of what was appearing on his records, Stewart never stopped making inspired music.
Here we have four discs full of demo recordings, alternate versions and out-takes never meant for public consumption. Often tracks which on album are overproduced and arranged, here are presented in rough, stripped down renditions which remarkably add much more depth to the material.
The set opens with an early take of "Maggie May" featuring a rough guide vocal consisting of improv lyrics. While hardly revelatory, it is a fascinating look at the song in a very embryonic stage. A terrific acoustic reading of "Los Paraguayos" is also among the set's highlights.
The alternate version of Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" has added drums to give a more driving force behind the song originally found on Rod's classic 1972 Never A Dull Moment album.
It's not really a surprise to find such a high level of material on the early discs. After all, that period was Stewart's most creative and prolific. A time when all his artistic stars aligned beautifully. What is an unexpected treat though is to discover how many great songs were left on the studio floor from the later sessions.
From the terrific anthem "Let The Day Begin", "In A Broken Dream" featuring David Glimour's soaring lead guitar and a back to form rendition of "I'm A King Bee" (I'm convinced Rod has a small piece of gum in his mouth for this take) it's obvious that the man still knew what he was doing in the studio.
By the time we get to the set's finale, a heartfelt and tender take on John Martyn's "May You Never" the listener is left in total awe of the amazing places and emotions this alternate journey through Rod's history has taken us.
Robert Lawson 2009.
This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Needle Magazine.