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Music Review: Al Stewart – Live: Rhymes in Rooms

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Live: Rhymes in Rooms came about after a turbulent time in the life of Al Stewart. After releasing his 1988 album Last Days of the Century, while he was working on what he hoped would become his second album for Enigma, the company went bankrupt. This was 1990-1991.

Touring is expensive in the most optimal times, but when you have no album or label to support you, you have to go small. That is just what Al Stewart and Peter White did.  EMI UK, who now owned the rights to all of the Enigma assets, was willing to support the album. The act was a reprising of the duo that they created with the Russians and Americans Album.

With manager Steve Chapman overseeing both careers, he decided that it would be a good time to recreate the energy that existed between the two on tape. Live: Rhymes in Rooms became a greatest hits unplugged album. They rethought many of the tunes before playing them on this tour

First, the remixing of Live: Rhymes in Rooms is incredible. Because this is an unplugged set, the sound of the guitars is just so clear that you almost feel like you are there. Second, as I said earlier, they rethought many of the songs, so while they are the songs that you are familiar with, many have a different flavor to them.

"Flying Sorcery" begins the set in the true poetic sound that is Stewart's trademark, some good lead work but nothing over the top; a good rendition. "Soho (Needless To Say)" is next up, this probably is one of my least favorite of the original tunes from the CD, but again there is some good guitar work again.

"Time Passages" is one of those reinvented sounds, they kind of play with the audience for about the first minute or so with some excellent finger work before getting into the main song. It’s a little slower but it works with the lead line flowing through the vocals. "Josephine Baker" has Peter White on Accordion. This is one those Stewart songs about a historical figure that in lesser hands could come across goofy. The accordion gives the Cabaret feel of the song.

"On The Border" is another song that feels reinvented, but I really like this version. The flamenco guitar sound is fantastic especially with the remix. The intricate fret work is great. After about two minutes Stewart's voice appears and the lead guitar lines keep talking along.

"Nostradamus", this is a ten minute version, it is good, perhaps not the best, but again, in the unplugged mode it is much more intimate and informal. Fields of France, comes across very dynamic and historically mood driven. "Clifton in the Rain/Song Fruit Song" is a light, troubadour song that has a lot of subtle guitar work going on.

"Broadway Hotel" begins with some finger work and then quietly explodes into the lyrics. Again Whites guitar work weaves in and out of the vocals giving the feel that there are two voices singing. "Leave it", rocks coming off the first notes. The original album finishes with "Year of the Cat", again this feels reworked for a little different sound than the original, but because of White's finger work it comes across refreshing.

There are two bonus tracks that were not recorded during the Rhymes in Rooms tour. The first "Warm California Night", is pretty good. It is an embryonic version of a song that would eventually become "Timeless Skies". The next bonus track, "London's Brilliant Parade", written by Elvis Costello, seems disjointed to me. Perhaps it is because it does not have the same level of style I am use to with Al Stewart.

Over all, I think that this is a good CD, the quality is clear, the sounds are strong. It does sometimes seem a little fast and a little different than the originals, but that is not a bad thing, more of an experimental feel. I think that if you like Stewart's music, you will enjoy Live: Rhymes in Rooms.

"Live: Rhymes in Rooms" song listing

Flying Sorcery (Al Stewart)
Soho (Needless to Say) (Al Stewart)
Time Passages (Al Stewart & Peter White)
Josephine Baker (Al Stewart & Peter White)
On The Border (Al Stewart)
Nostradamus (Al Stewart)
Fields of France (Al Stewart)
Clifton in the Rain/Small Fruit Song (Al Stewart)
Broadway Hotel (Al Stewart)
Leave It (Al Stewart)
Year of the Cat (Al Stewart & Peter Wood)

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About T. Michael Testi

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