ROD STEWART - The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998 (2009)
Warner Bros. goes deep into the vaults to reveal the secret studio history of this very public performer with a boxed set of unreleased recordings chosen from sessions spanning 1971-1998. Encompassing more than 25 years, this collection's 63 songs + 5 hidden tracks, outtakes, and ephemera provide extraordinary insight into the studio work of one of rock's legendary figures and paints a picture of what might have been. Many of these performances are more stripped-down and intimate than their released counterparts, so the set becomes an illustration and a showcase of Rod's creative process.
The side-effect of Rod Stewart's superstardom has been that few take him seriously as an artist. Rhino's four-disc box, The Rod Stewart Sessions, is designed to prompt re-evaluation, showcasing an artist at work: an artist writing lyrics, stretching out melodies, changing arrangements, anything he can do to get a piece of music to work. This, naturally, is not passive listening; although the differences are often notable, especially on the earliest tracks, it demands attention because so many of these are working tracks, not finished masters. As the set winds to a conclusion in the late '90s the last album covered is Rod's Brit-pop homage When We Were the New Boys, tellingly also the last rock & roll album he's made as of this 2009 release -- outtakes begin to outnumber the rough cuts, and there are some good ones, including takes on Paul Weller's "Changingman" and Oasis' "Rocking Chair." Still, it takes a little bit of effort to get there, as the set dips in interest during the mid-'80s, when Rod hit a creative lull, but that is easily overshadowed, as it always is, by the glory of his '70s work. Here, there's an undeniable charge in hearing Rod muck about in the studio, figuring out the words for "Maggie May" and "You Wear It Well," figuring out how to give "Los Paraguayos" a kick, joking around on the music hall romp "My Dad's Trouser." True, this is all the province of the dedicated, but for those curious listeners who decide to wade into these deep waters, they will indeed find a sharp, engaged, interpretive singer and songwriter, the artist who has been obscured in the wake of Rod's superstardom.
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