ROD STEWART > The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998

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Rod Stewart
The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998
[4 stars]

These days, when you think of Rod Stewart, you might think of the Great American Songbook crooner of the 2000s, the spiky-haired, speedboat-racing video star of the ’80s, or the repackaged, Adult Contemporary songbird of the ’90s. These conflicting images obscure the fact that Stewart is an important figure in rock and roll, who’s glorious early albums rank among the genres’ finest. The former Faces frontman may have made his share of bad music over the years, but who among his contemporaries, from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton, can say any different?

The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998 shows how much Stewart has brought to the table, in any decade. A four-CD set of early and alternate versions, it’s an intimate, warts-and-all glimpse into the singer’s artistry. Stewart shouts out the changes in the roots rockin’ great “Italian Girls (Early Version)” an early mock up of “Every Picture Tells a Story,” and elsewhere: “Go to the Middle 8!” “Stop ‘ere.” “One more, watch Ronnie Wood, Mickie!” There’s less bile to “Maggie May,” which features improvised lyrics that are good, but far from classic: “I don’t mean to tell ya, that you look like a fella/it’s been a long long time, since you been gone.” There are different lyrics entirely to “You Wear it Well,” which features as much humming as singing. But the acoustic gold of “Los Paraguyas” and sublime soul of “I’d Rather Go Blind” need to be heard at least once.

Disc 1 is rough around the edges, but the material is classic. Stewart’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel is perfection, as is his take on Dylan’s “North Country Girl.” This slightly more mellow “This Old Heart Of Mine” tops the original. On disc 4, Stewart gives the abundantly wordy,lost Dylan classic “Groom’s Still Waiting At the Altar” a boogie-woogie, bar band feel. “This Wheel’s on Fire” is more ’90s-ish sounding. But hey — it was the ’90s. Elsewhere, the spare piano ballad version of Chris Rea’s “Windy Town,” from 1995’s A Spanner in the Works, is a poignant find. David Gilmour’s guitar rips up 1992’s “In A Broken Dream,” a previously unreleased minor blues gem featuring John Paul Jones on organ and Nick Lowe on bass. Not every song deserves platinum status, but you’ll find very few wooden nickels here. If you’re a fan of the music or the man, you want this.

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