Sunday , October 25 2020

Music Reviews: Rod Stewart, Ben Bostick, and a ‘Proto-Psychedelic’ Anthology

Classical Treatment for Rod Stewart’s Classics

Rod Stewart now has something in common with Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, the Carpenters, Elvis Presley, and the Beach Boys: like those other artists, he has had the vocal tracks from his early hits wedded to new symphonic arrangements by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The 15-song You’re in My Heart (also available in a deluxe edition with 22 tunes) includes some of his greatest self-penned and cowritten compositions, including “Tonight’s the Night,” “Maggie May,” “I Was Only Joking,” and the title cut. Also here are his covers of numbers like Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe,” Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately,” and Cat Stevens’s “The First Cut Is the Deepest.” The disc additionally offers a new song, a ballad called “Stop Loving Her Today”; and a fresh duet version of “It Takes Two,” the Marvin Gaye hit, which Stewart—who previously recorded this number with Tina Turner—performs with British singer Robbie Williams.

If you’re one of those people who think Rod peaked with 1971’s Every Picture Tells a Story and sold out his rock audience with his Great American Songbook series, you’re likely to consider this latest release a new low. Not me. While Stewart’s discography has sometimes offered a bumpy ride, I think he’s done great work throughout his career, and some of his greatest is included here. No, these symphonic versions aren’t necessarily better than the originals; but the orchestration adds a different yet fitting dimension that allows fans to hear Stewart’s classic performances in a new light.

Ben Bostick’s Poignant Latest Release

Among the Faceless Crowd, the third full-length album from Georgia-based folk singer Ben Bostick, will likely grab your attention with its opening lines and hold it till the last track winds down. Bostick, whose effusive vocals sound redolent of Tom Pacheco, delivers concise first-person tales that seem reminiscent of those on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. The instrumentation—most of it supplied by the singer—is sparse, and the lyrics evoke men who are down on their luck and “just can’t seem to get ahead.”

Some of the tracks on this self-penned, self-produced record seem connected. In the first number, for example, the protagonist tells his girlfriend Emilie that he “did something” and asks her to post his bail and pack a bag because “I know a place that’s far away” where they can hide. Then, in the second song, the protagonist has lost his job and can’t bring himself to tell his wife, Caroline, that he got laid off—so he leaves home in the morning and drives around until he winds up “among the mansions where Emilie lives.” Sings Bostick: “I think of us, 17 years old, as I see her looking pretty through her window.”

Many of Bostick’s characters turn from disillusionment to crime. “Untroubled Mind,” for instance, is the first-person tale of a man on death row, while in “The Thief,” a guy with “a 10th grade education and a rap sheet,” takes “unnecessary things from those who can afford to lose their necklaces and rings.” His rationalization: “I ain’t no Jesse James, I just looked my options through / I got two kids and a wife who deserve a decent life, so I do what I gotta do.”

In this era of increasing income inequality, Among the Faceless Crowd is as timely as it is poignant.

British Psychedelia from 1966 A Slight Disturbance in My Mind: The British Proto-Psychedelic Sounds of 1966 is a long title for a long album: it comprises three discs, 84 tracks, and nearly four hours of music, all of it from a year when rock in the U.K. was in the midst of an intensely ambitious, experimental phase. A 50-page booklet includes considerable detail about every track.

Like the Rhino label’s similarly styled Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond (1964–1969), the new set focuses largely on fascinating but little-known acts, such as the Fingers (a version of Ray Davies’s “I Go to Sleep,” a song that the Pretenders later made famous), the Score (a psychedelicized reading of the Beatles’ “Please Please Me”), the Creation (“Painter Man,” the first U.K. single to be promoted as “psychedelic”), the Kingpins (“You’re My Girl”), and the Wimple Winch (“Save My Soul”), both garage rock gems.

Though licensing problems ostensibly prevented the inclusion of anything from such major acts as the Beatles, the Stones, Pink Floyd, and Donovan, the package features more than a few artists who were famous then or became known later, including the Moody Blues, the Searchers, Manfred Mann, the Bee Gees, the Kinks, Al Stewart, the Animals, the Yardbirds, the Move, Rod Stewart, the Hollies, and the Zombies. If you’re looking for the hits, though, look elsewhere: even the luminous artists are mostly represented by deep cuts, many of which are difficult or impossible to find on other albums.

A set this big that draws on such varied sources is inevitably uneven. And some of the material—such as the Bee Gees’ excellent “I Am the World,” the Searchers’ catchy “Have You Ever Loved Somebody,” and the Secrets’ “I Suppose”—doesn’t fit all that well under the “proto-psychedelic” umbrella. But most of the tracks here are well worth hearing. Even the occasional weak numbers are interesting; and the best of them shine a light on a time when British pop/rock was breaking free of conventions with often terrific results.

About Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains half a century's worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.

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