The great thing about Rod Stewart's Unplugged…And Seated (Collector's Edition), recently released as a CD/DVD package, is that the artist so easily slips back into his early-'70s prime. Reunited with Ron Wood during much of the performance, Stewart delivers genuinely spirited readings of many of his best songs. Wood and Stewart have a long history together, dating back to their brief tenure in the original Jeff Beck Group and, of course, in their celebrated work in the Faces. Wood also served as guitarist, bassist, and frequent co-writer on Stewart's earliest (and best) solo albums. His appearance here adds an additional layer of nostalgia to the proceedings.
Originally released in 1993, Unplugged…And Seated became a triple platinum hit for Stewart and spawned several Top 40 hits. It's an amiable reminder of the artist Stewart once was, before devolving into the MOR blandness that rendered the majority of his catalog inconsequential. Those who only know him from his '80s-era mega-hits are often unaware of how vital a rock singer he was in the initial phases of his career.
Wisely focusing on his early work, the album makes for a pretty solid introduction to Stewart's music — not that any individual performance outdoes its original studio counterpart. Still, I would say that Stewart and company are clearly doing more than phoning it in. Performances of "Every Picture Tells a Story" and "Mandolin Wind," in particular, are outstanding. Dipping into the Faces songbook just once, "Stay With Me" translates very well to the unplugged format even if it's nowhere near as vital as the hard-hitting original.
In addition to the 15-track original album, remastered and sounding great, two bonus tracks are tacked on at the end. "Forever Young" is out of place, seeing as it was from the late-'80s and would've been better left unreleased. However, "Gasoline Alley" is a real treat, even if Stewart clearly strains to reach the high notes. His voice was still in good shape for this concert, but it obviously wasn't the magnificent instrument it was in 1970.
The DVD includes the full original MTV broadcast, which was great fun to revisit. I was pleasantly surprised to find a 5.1 mix included. Actually, the concert sounds better on the DVD than on the CD. Stewart's voice is more exposed in the CD mix, allowing the listener to detect every sign of weakness. The DVD mix is much more "live," with the audience ambiance playing a bigger part. Watching Stewart and Wood together is a kick, as they rib each other about their advancing age.
All things considered, Unplugged…And Seated (Collector's Edition) is a worthwhile reissue for fans. I would recommend it only if you already own most of the original recordings, as those are all superior. As nostalgia shows go, though, this one is a keeper.