MICHAEL STANLEY - Michael Stanley (1972) & Friends & Legends (1973)
It seems like many blue-collar rock & roll heroes of the 1970s and '80s got their start as folkies, and Cleveland legend Michael Stanley is one of them. His self-titled debut album was released in 1972, and it is a wildly mixed bag of introspective, acoustic folk-rock (a la James Taylor and others of that sensitive singer-songwriter ilk) and simple rock & roll. Stanley's potential was obvious, and this fact drew producer and Tumbleweed Records co-founder Bill Szymczyk, Joe Walsh, and other well-known musicians to the project. Stanley, Szymczyk, and Walsh went to Denver, assembled and briefly rehearsed an ad hoc band, and cut Michael Stanley in Los Angeles a week later. "Rosewood Bitters" opens the album, and it's still revered among Stanley fans. This relaxed, easygoing tune is based on acoustic guitar strumming and a sweet, gentle melody. Walsh plays slide guitar and Todd Rundgren adds clavinet. The country-flavored "Louisville A.D." features Rick Derringer on pedal steel guitar. "A Friend and Nothing More" slowly builds tension with slow piano, sparse acoustic guitar, resonant synthesizer, and steady drum parts. "Rock and Roll Man" is a conscious attempt to add a foot-stomper to the album, and Stanley forces his sneering vocals; luckily, Walsh redeems things with a piercing guitar solo. "Moving Right Along" is decent folk-rock enhanced by organ, flute, and guitar solos. A radically altered arrangement of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" closes the album. Stanley would release one more solo album before forming the Michael Stanley Band and becoming a superstar in Ohio, but it all began with the uneven yet promising Michael Stanley.
The title of Michael Stanley's 1973 album Friends & Legends his second and final solo effort before starting the Michael Stanley Band is certainly deserved. The Clevelander's talent must have been immediately evident to big names in the music business, because even Stanley's self-titled debut featured stellar guests. Bill Szymczyk produced Friends & Legends, and he recruited Joe Walsh and his band Barnstorm, Stephen Stills' Manassas, saxophonist David Sanborn, Richie Furay, and Dan Fogelberg to perform on it; J. Geils is also credited for helping Stanley co-produce the saxophone parts. "Among My Friends Again" is pleasant, easygoing folk-rock. An extremely mellow, reflective cover of the Beatles' "Help" is impressive, and Stanley says in the liner notes to the Razor & Tie reissue that a friend played it for John Lennon, who replied that Stanley's version was performed the way he originally conceived the song. The dramatically brooding "Let's Get the Show On the Road" is one of Stanley's best songs and was a concert favorite for many years; Sanborn's rich saxophone work on the track is stellar, and he really stretches out on the funky, Latin-flavored outro jam. "Just Keep Playing Your Radio" is an early example of rock's embrace of reggae. Thanks to Joe Vitale's multi-tracked flute parts and its overall Latin feel, "Roll On" resembles the music of War. "Funky Is the Drummer" is a fun, little throwaway on which Stanley introduces the musicians. The long guitar jam at the end of the otherwise subdued "Poets' Day" concludes Friends & Relatives on a blistering note.
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