Thursday, 10 January 2019

Al Stewart - Year Of The Cat (1976)

  

Released July 1976

I was never quite sure what to make of this folk/rock-ish album. I always found it had a few prog-rock overtones for me. Was it "prog-pop"? Whatever, it didn't really sit well as punk was beginning to explode all around. Lots of people loved it though, so over the years I have given it the occasional listen. It is certainly a stylish album, quite ahead of its time in many ways. Listening to it again, it always seems to deliver some hidden depths. It also must be noted that this was no one-off album, despite being pretty much the only album he is known for, Stewart had been putting albums out since his folky/hippy debut in 1967. This was his seventh offering.

TRACK LISTING

1. Lord Grenville
2. On The Border
3. Midas Shadow
4. Sand In Your Shoes
5. If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It
6. Flying Sorcery
7. Broadway Hotel
8. One Stage Before
9. Year Of The Cat

"Lord Grenville" is a mysterious song. It sounds by the title as if it should be a Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention song. As it is, it is a mid-pace soft rock ballad, with crystal clear percussion and a plaintive, "serious and thoughtful" vocal delivery. It features some excellent guitar. "On The Border" begins with Elton John-esque "Funeral For A Friend"-style piano before the song moves into a Spanish guitar-driven, lively, melodic and quite captivating song. As with all Stewart's songs, they are lyrically fascinating and perplexing, full of imagery and mystique. This is a very "adult" album, ideal for student bedsits, loaded with sensitivity and occasional arty, educated references. "Midas Shadow" very much falls into the latter category. It is a lovely song, though, with a delicious bass line. This track is sort of CSNY/America's proggy cousin.

"Sand In Your Shoes" is catchy and sightly more poppy and lively in its tempo, with a lovely sad hook. Despite the pop sensibilities, the old intelligent, observant feel is still there, as it always is throughout the album. Everything on this album is very sophisticated and graceful. I have always felt Stewart's voice was a little too weak, however, and would have preferred a stronger tone on these songs. The instrumentation on all of them is outstanding. There is an enchantment to all the tracks though, despite my reservations about the voice. In many ways, the voice has a quiet, laid-back quality that suits much of the material.

"If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It" is one of the album's rockier numbers with a big, riffy backing. Again, Stewart's voice doesn't quite match up to the punch of the backing. The track has some superb guitar/piano.drum interplay at the end. "Flying Sorcery" features some fetching harmonica, sumptuous bass and a winning melody. It has airs of David Bowie's "Hunky Dory" in tiny places on the vocal. "Broadway Hotel" continues the enigmatic style of song, and it features some captivating electric violin, similar to used by Cockney Rebel on their "Human Menagerie" album three years earlier.

"One Stage Before" is another beguiling number, with more sublime bass. Then there is the iconic title track, known now by many. A copper-bottomed Radio 2 favourite. It is full of the trademark atmosphere and cinematic imagery once more. A great track from an album which, actually, after all these years, is still growing on me. That has to be a good thing.

B

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