Sunday, 13 January 2019

Al Stewart - Past, Present & Future (1973)


Released October 1973

This is Al Stewart's most folky album, featuring several narrative, historically-based folk songs bringing to mind Fairport Convention or Pentangle. There is a gentle, melodic folk-rock backing to most tracks. It is very much Stewart's historical folk album. It is an extremely artistically advanced album for 1973.


1. Old Admirals
2. Warren Harding
3. Soho (Needless To Say)
4. The Last Day Of June 1934
5. Post World War Two Blues
6. Roads To Moscow
7. Terminal Eyes
8. Nostradamus                                                    

"Old Admirals" is a seafaring folk song set against a solid acoustic guitar, bass and drum backing, with some atmospheric strings and brass as well. It is a grandiose song in places. The old early seventies David Bowie vocal stylings are still there, left over from the previous three albums. "Warren Harding" is an upbeat, quirky song with some echoes of Cockney Rebel in its keyboard sound. It concerns a 1920s President of the USA. "Soho (Needless To Say)" has some Dylanesque verbosity in its lyrical delivery and some winning Hammond organ in its insistent beaty tune. Some convincing electric guitar and percussion augment the lively rock sound. The Spanish guitar break in the middle is razor sharp. This was all very credible, thoughtful material and completely different to the glam rock or prog rock that was so prevalent in 1973.

"The Last Day Of June 1934" is an evocative mid-tempo folk rock song, bravely telling of a time in Adolf Hitler's life from a sad point of view and the execution of Hitler's one-time ally, Ernst Rohm. It is a complex, thought-provoking song. "Post World War Two Blues" is a rocking number with Dylanesque overtones and some excellent bluesy guitar. It name checks Jimi Hendrix, "Desolation Row" and "Sgt. Pepper" as the sixties are referenced. It also mentions the Suez crisis, the death of Buddy Holly and the Profumo scandal as Stewart autobiographically recalls his growing years.

"Roads To Moscow" is a lengthy narrative tale of a Russian soldier in 1941 fighting for Russia and captured by The Germans and then by Stalin. Stewart apparently read forty books in researching the song. It is a sombre, mournful, typically Russian-sounding song. It is, not surprisingly, most atmospheric, and contains some excellent, intricate acoustic guitar and a resonating bass. It is also lyrically beautiful at times. As soon as you hear "Terminal Eyes" you think "I Am The Walrus", and, indeed, The Beatles song is the inspiration for the lyrical stream of consciousness and staccato melody. There is an excellent electric guitar part in the middle. The lyrics are rapped out in Dylan meets Lennon style. "Nostradamus" ends the album with over eight minutes of Stewart's predictions of the future. It is the album's only real nod to "prog", but is still very folky. There is an infectious bass, acoustic guitar and drum interplay bit in the middle which is a joy to listen to. Very "Led Zeppelin III" in places. This was an adult, perfectly created, expertly delivered album. The sound quality is excellent too. Highly recommended.


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