Friday, May 24, 2013

Between You, Me, and the Staten Island Ferry

One hell of an interview here. Great questions, great answers. Elton John is like a Mom, I'll bet.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Love Ya Honey ... But ...

Speaking of Rod (as we were), his new album was released this week. It's his first record of "original" material since 1995's SPANNER IN THE WORKS and follows a series of standards interpretations that sold like crazy while eroding nearly all his remaining coolness and contemporary relevance, which is one reason his lively biography was such a fun surprise.

The new album, called TIME, dovetails with his book a little too snugly. There's an autobiographical career-spanning number called "Can't Stop Me Now," in which he meets Maggie May; and "Brighton Beach" reflects on paying his dues as an R&B singing sideman in the early 1960s. A sappy breakup song, "It's Over," covers his despair at the crumbling of a marriage (like his to Rachel Hunter); and several cuts make reference to his "happy ending" current marriage to Penny Lancaster and all the gross, sober, healthy habits she's inspired in him. There's also some icky sexytime Rod ("Sexual Religion" and "Make Love to Me Tonight") and obligatory covers of Tom Waits ("Picture in a Frame") and Bob Dylan ("Corrina Corrina.")

As a "comeback" rock album, this is still way too adult contemporary, with songs that recall the Rod of old without actually being quite as good as them. The production is loaded with strings. Rod's voice is still there but it's a gentle kind of gruff. The thing about Rod in the old days was, he was such a terrific singer, other good musicians gravitated toward him. Jeff Beck, for example, was deathly serious about assembling a kickass group and probably chose his singer too well: He'd be humiliated when American audiences and critics mistook Rod for the group's namesake.

These artists (guitarists including Beck, Ron Wood, and Gary Grainger; drummers Mickey Waller and Carmine Appice, among many others) provided the background that brought Rod's emotional voice to life. Today, you've got longtime Stewart collaborator Jim Cregan, drummer Kenny Aronoff, and a billion cello players on TIME but the magic isn't quite there. Here's Rod then and now.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Who do you think you are? Rod Stewart!?

If there is a funnier or better-written rock-star autobiography out there I'd like to read it. Rod Stewart recounts his five-decade career with humor and forthrightness, never taking himself too seriously but coming off as genuine as you might expect a bazillionaire pop star whose access to supermodels and Lamborghinis far exceed what he'd otherwise deserve.

I've always loved Rod Stewart's voice, and chapters detailing how he paid his dues imitating his American soul idols like Sam Cooke alongside Long John Baldry in clubs where the Rolling Stones were also fighting to make a name for themselves are revealing. What comes through is an ambition is every bit as outstanding as his voice, culminating in an inspired period between the late 1960s and early 1970s where he fronted the Jeff Beck Group, then the Faces for their best moments, while at the same time recording some absolutely terrific solo albums that even today don't get the credit they are due.

Rod's weaknesses in songwriting -- it just never came easy for him -- and a propensity to give into fashion are addressed with humor and self-depreciating candor. He is not afraid to tell you about how he painstakingly dyes and fixes his hair and about indulging a geeky model-railroad hobby. Or the stomach-pumping episode. Or his love for soccer as a fan and participant. Or his well-deserved reputation for business savvy including a stint as a tax exile. Or the womanizing and drug use. Or, you know, the last 30 years of his career.

The model-chasing and love affair with his current wife takes up a little too much space near the end but boy is the rest a lot of  fun. I supplemented the read by streaming the Beck, Faces and early solo records with admiration, wonder and forgiveness. Rod Stewart is just great.