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Book Review: Al Stewart: The True Life Adventures of a Folk-Rock Troubadour by Neville Judd

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Al Stewart: The True Life Adventures of a Folk-Rock Troubadour is, above all, a fun read. It is clear from page one that author Neville Judd is passionate about music and about singer-songwriter Al Stewart (“Year of the Cat,” “Time Passages,” “Roads to Moscow”) in particular. Thank goodness for the novice writer’s enthusiasm: His passion is what carries the reader through 312 densely packed pages of often-amusing anecdotes, free-flowing factoids, and the occasional surprise from the life story of the only artist from the ’60s British folk-roots scene to score two LPs in the US Top Thirty.

Judd enjoyed close access to Stewart and many of his contemporaries, colleagues, friends, and family members: The resulting book is an interweaving of snippets from interviews, writings from Stewart’s own journals, and the author’s own enthusiastic, largely comma-free prose. The whole offers a breezy — if sometimes repetitive; Adventures would have benefitted greatly from some serious editing — and detailed look at Stewart’s life from birth through 2003.

The lion’s share of attention is given to Stewart’s public-school years and his hardscrabble bedsit days as a rising player in London’s folk scene. Judd also shines light on the dark side of the starmaker machinery of the record business — it’s fascinating to see how the rock-and-roll dream turned nightmarish through the differing perspectives of Stewart (who, to Judd’s credit, does not get kid-gloves treatment), former manager Luke O’Reilly, and various bandmates.

Here’s hoping that the much-deserved resurgence of Al Stewart will bring about a sequel — this book, disappointingly, offers very little about the mature Stewart, who is its most compelling character. But for the richly portrayed Soho scene and the glimpses into the past of a truly gifted and woefully underrated and underappreciated artist, Al Stewart: The True Life Adventures of a Folk-Rock Troubadour is worthwhile reading for any music lover willing to take the journey. And it’s a must-read for serious Stewart fans and devotees of British folk-rock.

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