Sunday, 29 December 2019

Rod Stewart - The Cover Version Albums (1993-2012)



The albums covered here are:-

Lead Vocalist (1993)
It Has To Be You (2002)
As Time Goes By (2003)
Stardust (2004)
Thanks For The Memory (2005)
Still The Same: Great Rock Classics Of Our Time (2006)
Soulbook (2009)
Fly Me To The Moon (2010)
and Merry Christmas Baby (2012)

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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LEAD VOCALIST (1993)

  

This is an excellent compilation from 1993 covering Rod Stewart's career so far, including some rarities and a few tracks not available on other albums. Here are the tracks included:-

I Ain't Superstitious - An excellent slice of blues rock from Rod's Jeff Beck Group days, with Jeff providing some seriously searing, wah-wah-ing guitar licks and Rod some seriously bluesy vocals.

Handbags And Gladrags - The iconic, Faces-style ballad from An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down. However many times I listen to it, it's always just as good.

Cindy Incidentally - This time it is The Faces, with one of their most underrated, appealing singles from 1973. Also on the Ooh La La.

True Blue - An superb rocker from 1972's Never A Dull Moment. Great guitar riffs abound. Again, it is very much a Faces song in style.


Sweet Lady Mary - An evocative Faces ballad from their Long Player album. One of The Faces' best slow numbers.

Hot Legs - The saucy, riff-laden rocker from Footloose And Fancy Free. It needs no introduction.

Stand Back - A Stevie Nicks cover from her album The Wild Heart in 1983. As always, Rod covers it convincingly.

Ruby Tuesday - Covering The Rolling Stones is never easy. Stewart does it effortlessly, giving the originally plaintive song a new punch and power. I love this one.

Shotgun Wedding - Another superb cover of an obscure soul track, originally by Roy C. In Stewart's hands it sounds even better. Full and soulful.

First I Look At The Purse - Smokey Robinson's bluesy slow burner is again given a rousing, pulsating new life.

Tom Traubert's Blues (Waltzing Matilda) - Stewart makes Tom Waits' evocative, atmospheric and lyrically perplexing song his own. It really suits his voice and he lends it a real pathos. Great stuff. Best track on the album.

If it seems I am queuing up to praise all of Stewart's renditions of the songs he covers, I have nothing to apologise for because, in my opinion, he does them all justice and makes them well worth a listen. Some of his later albums of cover versions (Still The Same and Soulbook) have been patchy, to say the least, but on this one he nails them.

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IT HAD TO BE YOU (2002)

1. You Go To My Head
2. They Can't Take That Away From Me
3. The Way You Look Tonight
4. It Had To Be You
5. That Old Feeling
6. These Foolish Things
7. The Very Thought Of You
8. Moonglow
9. I'll Be Seeing You
10. Every Time We Say Goodbye
11. The Nearness Of You
12. For All We Know
13. We'll Be Together Again
14. That's All                    

It is impossibly easy to dismiss these albums of crooning covers of songs from the "Great American Songbook" as lazy examples of a once-great artist just putting out cheesy old covers to make some money, appealing to grandmas and totally forgetting the super material he put out in the early seventies. All of that is true, however, I have to say that I sort of agree with it. So many artists do this sort of thing, every Christmas. Some of them are not even "proper" singers, just TV personalities. One thing this has going for it is that is the best of the crop, just. The problem is that Stewart's voice is made for rock or soul covers as opposed to the precision needed for these crooning standards. It all can sound a bit self-satisfied and lazy, to be honest. That is an opinion certainly backed up by the four, yes four, subsequent albums in the series.
                   
Anyway, on to the positives. A few years ago, my Wife and were having dinner with some friends and they played this as the background music. It actually seemed to be perfect in that setting and there have also been the odd late night occasions when I have played it and found it relaxing and enjoyable. The songs, of course, are timeless classics and Stewart delivers them effortlessly and with a certain élan, it has to be said. Of course I prefer the old early seventies stuff, this material should just be viewed separately, for what it is. It is acceptable background music. Maybe that is a sad indictment for an artist with such a history, though.

Highlights are - the lovely You Go To My Head; the timeless, romantic The Way You Look Tonight; the catchy, singalong It Had To Be YouThese Foolish Things (although I much prefer Bryan Ferry's version); the smoochy The Very Thought Of You and the plaintive The Nearness Of You.

As I said, easy to criticise it. More difficult to admit to enjoying it. Probably, the best of the five albums series too, although there is a case for number five.

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AS TIME GOES BY (2003)

1. Time After Time
2. I'm In The Mood For Love
3. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
4. Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered (with Cher)
5. 'Till There Was You
6. Until The Real Thing Comes Along
7. Where Or When
8. Smile
9. My Heart Stood Still
10. Someone To Watch Over Me
11. As Time Goes By (with Queen Latifah)
12. I Only Have Eyes For You
13. Crazy She Calls Me
14. Our Love Is Here To Stay
                          
Almost a year to the day since Rod Stewart released the first of this somewhat ill-conceived series of covers of "easy listening" crooning standards, he released more of the same. There was no change in the method whatsoever - more cocktail lounge, slickly orchestrated backing, and Stewart's not really suitable for these songs voice. His seventies covers of rock songs like The Rolling Stones' Street Fighting Man or The Small Faces' My Way Of Giving were classics of their type, showing just how versatile Stewart's voice was. Here, though, it is not so apparent. He doesn't have a Sinatra or Bennett type of voice, so the concept is essentially a bit flawed.

That said, there is definitely a huge market for it (the albums sold very well) and it certainly makes pleasant background music. A slight change from the first album in the series is that there are a couple of duets - with Cher (an odd choice) and Queen Latifah. Stewart's seemingly ad hoc asides may suit a spur of the moment "live" sounding rock or soul cover but on these songs they sound contrived, clumsy, awkward and not a little embarrassing. Don't Get Around Much Anymore has always irritated me. It does even more here. Time After Time sounds lazy as indeed does the lovely song that is I'm In The Mood For Love. The latter's sumptuous saxophone backing saves it, however. A similar effect is to be had from the saxophone on Until The Real Thing Comes AlongWhere Or When has always been a lovely song. Bryan Ferry does it better, mind you. My Heart Stood Still is a nice one too.

So, Stewart survives, riding the smooth waves of the lush instrumentation, which it has to be said is immaculate, so nobody really notices. The people who like the concept will like it anyway, so where's the problem?

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STARDUST (2004)

1. Embraceable You
2. For Sentimental Reasons
3. Blue Moon (with Eric Clapton)
4. What A Wonderful World (with Stevie Wonder)
5. Stardust
6. Manhattan (with Bette Midler)
7. S'Wonderful
8. Isn't It Romantic
9. I Can't Get Started
10. But Not For Me
11. A Kiss To Build A Dream On
12. Baby, It's Cold Outside (with Dolly Parton)
13. Night And Day
14. A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square    
     
For the third October in a row, Rod Stewart released an album in The Great American Songbook series. This time on the cover he shows his old cheeky "laddishness" by having a pair of attractive female legs sticking out from behind him as he grins and adjusts his tie. From that, one might expect a bit of cheeky, off the cuff "attitude" to be displayed on the album's material. Not to be. It was more of the same. As The Beach Boys' Mike Love once famously said to Brian Wilson - "don't fuck with the formula". This series had been a huge success of a formula and had a market who wanted more.

My comments for Volumes One and Two apply here. Apologies for repetition but the point remains the same - Stewart was considered by the production team and by the many fans who bought the album to be able to deliver cocktail lounge standards from the Great American Songbook with ease. As it was, he delivered them somewhat lazily and awkwardly. His voice was far better suited covering rock, blues, folk and soul, all of which he had covered magnificently in his long career. A great production doesn't necessarily mean that it is a great album.


Some have suggested that the production is a bit lighter and warmer than on this first two albums in the series. Personally, I don't see that. It all sounds the same - slick, polished and highly competent, but Stewart sounds the same - slightly detached and a bit tired and perfunctory. There are, of course some lovely parts on it - the sumptuous trumpet solo on Stardust for example and A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square is always such an evocative song, whoever sings it. There is a bit more of a jazzy feel on some of tracks, I have to admit, and Isn't It Romantic exemplifies that, featuring some infectious percussion and saxophone. Similarly, I Can't Get Started has some killer trumpet on the intro. Rod's duet with Dolly Parton on Baby, It's Cold Outside is absolutely awful, however. I have always loathed the song anyway. Sorry. It's like Santa Baby in its execrability.

Look, lots of people enjoy these albums very much and I, who owns them all, does too, up to a point. They are excellent relaxing background music, soothing late night fare and all of them are immaculately played. They are not without good points, it has to be said.

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THANKS FOR THE MEMORY (2005)

1. I've Got A Crush On You (with Diana Ross)
2. Blue Skies
3. I Wish You Love (with Chris Botti)
4. Makin' Whoopee (with Elton John)
5. Thanks For The Memory
6. Nevertheless
7. Long Ago And Far Away
8. You Send Me (with Chaka Khan)
9. My Funny Valentine
10. I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
11. Taking A Chance On Love
12. Let's Fall In Love (with George Benson)
13. My One And Only Love (with Roy Hargrove)  

Another October, another album of slick, polished cocktail lounge background music from Rod Stewart. One was ok, two pushing it a bit, three getting irritating, four pretty ludicrous, it has to be said. I am a long time fan of Rod Stewart, sticking with him since I first heard Maggie May aged twelve, through those wonderful early seventies rock albums, then the chart superstar ones of the mid-late seventies, through the synthesised pap of the eighties to a partial rebirth in the nineties. Then there was this series, when Stewart re-invented himself (or was re-invented) as a crooner of "easy listening" standards from the golden age of crooning. It was intended to appeal to people who wanted to play it as dinner-party background music (for which it is perfectly suited), middle aged people who like to think they appreciate this sort of thing and younger people who think that these are the original recordings of the songs and, again, think they are being cultured listening to what their grandparents used to like. Whatever their motivation, it was incredibly successful.

For me, I found it all rather sad, hearing such a great, often rebellious, rabble-rousing voice and persona doing stuff like this, whatever its doubted appeal. Don't forget that Rod Stewart has produced some seriously good music in the past. Producing material nearly all of which was better in its original form is a bit depressing it has to be said.


That said, I have to own up to owning all of the series, and enjoying them on occasions, so my bleating about them possibly falls on stony ground.

There are more duets on this one - seven to be precise (four on "3"; two on "2" and none on "1") and it sort of gets Rod off the hook a bit when he starts ad-libbing with his co-singers in a way that he didn't do on the earlier albums. I've Got A Crush On You with Diana Ross is pretty cheesy. "I've got a crush on you, Diana..." sings Rod. You Send Me with the super-soulful Chaka Khan is great, though and Chris Botti's trumpet on I Wish You Love is sublime. However, even though it's all late night listenable just as the first three albums were but I feel Stewart had just produced too many of these albums. He was better than this and needed to get back rocking. Thankfully, eventually he did.

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STILL THE SAME: GREAT ROCK CLASSICS OF OUR TIME (2006)

1. Have You Ever Seen The Rain
2. Fooled Around And Fell In Love
3. I'll Stand By You
4. Still The Same
5. It's A Heartache
6. Day After Day
7. Missing You
8. Father And Son
9. The Best Of My Love
10. If Not For You
11. Love Hurts
12. Everything I Own
13. Crazy Love         
                             
After four almost incomprehensible years of issuing four volumes of The Great American Songbook crooning standards that simply just did not, despite immense popularity, suit Rod Stewart, he decide to revert to what he knew best. Stewart had always covered other artists' rock songs exceptionally well, certainly in the seventies he did. Even thirteen years before this, on 1993's Lead Vocalist, he came up with some seriously impressive covers. This time, however, it wasn't Rod Stewart from the seventies or the early nineties singing. It was a more lazy, self-satisfied Stewart, an artist who was seemingly quite happy to labour through the covers in virtually identical fashion to the originals playing them dead straight. He doesn't offer interpretations of the songs he covers, they sound more like karaoke versions of them from an acceptable singer, or from "X-Factor" contestants.


Personally, I would have preferred a bit more experimentation, as he did on Ruby Tuesday in 1993, My Way Of Giving in 1970 or Street Fighting Man in 1969. Instead, we get Rod singing Bonnie Tyler's It's A Heartache (where, initially Tyler sounded a hell of a lot like Stewart) virtually note perfect to the original. Even Bonnie Tyler's unique vocal infections are somewhat bizarrely copied by Rod. Similarly, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Have You Ever Seen The Rain, a track also covered by Bonnie Tyler, is sung in the same style as her cover of it. John Waite's Missing You and Nazareth's Love Hurts are also covered without much deviation from their well-known originals.

Basically, all I can say is that accusations of laziness for this album are certainly not far wide of the mark. Stewart does not put his own stamp on any of the songs, no in the slightest. To a song, they are all preferable in their original incarnations. Therefore there is no real need to play this album, rendering it totally inessential. It is not a bad album as such, just not inspired in any way.

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SOULBOOK (2009)

1. The Same Old Song
2. My Cherie Amour
3. You Make Me Feel Brand New
4. Higher And Higher
5. The Tracks Of My Tears
6. Let It Be Me
7. Rainy Night In Georgia
8. What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted
9. Love Train
10. You've Really Got A Hold On Me
11. (What A) Wonderful World
12. If You Don't Know Me By Now
13. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)   

Now, I love Rod Stewart. I have loved him since I first heard Maggie May as a young teenager in 1971. He is an artist who has put out some truly great albums of his own material and has also successfully and convincingly covered many other artists' songs over the years, such as on the excellent Lead Vocalist album from 1993. Most songs are safe in Rod's hands. On this album he covers the soul music he grew up loving. The problem is, though, it is not the Rod of the seventies, who covered Sam Cooke's Twistin' The Night Away or of the early nineties, who covered Roy C's Shotgun Wedding. It is Rod-circa 2009, a Rod not nearly as earthy, raspy or blessed with the same bluesy, r 'n' b sensibility. It is a Rod who has been lazily basking in the warm jacuzzi waters of The Great American Songbook.
 
For those reasons, I am not quite so convinced about this album. I love Rod's lively, soulful take on The Four TopsThe Same Old Song but Stevie Wonder's My Cherie Amour goes a bit too deeply into "easy listening" territory, as does The Stylistics' You Make Me Feel Brand NewJackie Wilson's Higher And Higher is lifted higher, so to speak, by some excellent backing vocals and Rod copes with the vitality of the song well. There is a good rhythm to the track. Smokey Robinson's iconic The Tracks Of My Tears is delivered soulfully, but just a little sparsely, backing-wise for my liking. Actually, it's ok, to be fair. For some reason, The Everley BrothersLet It Be Me is included and given a full orchestrated backing, like on The Great American Songbook series. I have to think that there could have been many far more earthy soul numbers he could have chosen as opposed to these standards.

 

Brook Benton's Rainy Night In Georgia suits Stewart down to the ground. Jimmy Ruffin's What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted is reproduced pretty authentically. Stewart can handle these songs in his sleep, to be honest. The O'JaysLove Train is effervescent, as it should be. Smokey Robinson's You Really Got A Hold On Me is a comparative rarity and Rod does it very well.

Rod has always loved Sam Cooke, claiming that there was a period in the late sixties/early seventies that Cooke was all he listened to. There is only one Cooke track on here - Wonderful World. I would have preferred an album of Cooke covers. That would be something to hear, I think.

Harold Melvin's If You Don't Know Me By Now needs one hell of a singer to take it on. Rod can do it, of course. The Temptations' Just My Imagination is, once again, delivered very competently, apart from a bit of a mess-up in the "Dear Lord - hear my plea" part of the lyrics at the end.  If you know the song, listen, you will know exactly what  mean! Anyway, when I say I am not totally convinced by this album when I have pretty much praised all of it may seem a bit odd. I am having trouble to express what it is, but I find the covers on here just don't have that certain je ne sais quoi to find me digging this album out to play too many times. Something just a tiny but sanitised about it. Something difficult to put my finger on, however, so maybe I am being a bit harsh.

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FLY ME TO THE MOON (2010)

1. That Old Black Magic
2. Beyond The Sea
3. I've Got You Under My Skin
4. What A Difference A Day Makes
5. I Get A Kick Out Of You
6. I've Got The World On A String
7. Love Me Or Leave Me
8. My Foolish Heart
9. September In The Rain
10. Fly Me To The Moon
11. Sunny Side Of The Street
12. Moon River
                             
The odd thing about this, the fifth in Rod Stewart's Great American Songbook series (five years since the previous one) is possibly the best of them. I had got heartily fed up of them by the fourth, despite owning them all and enjoying them all, to an extent. There is something relaxed and loose about this one, however. The tinkling cocktail lounge piano is not as omnipresent as on the previous albums. For example, the opener, That Old Black Magic has a rich, warm, bassy jazz feel to it and Rod swings along with his vocal delivery, as if he is really enjoying himself. Previous albums had seen him sing in a slightly contrived, almost lazy way at times, in my opinion, anyway. As if it were all just a "selling product" pre-Christmas exercise. Here, it just sounds as if he is having far more of a good time. Despite that, it still was released in mid-October, just like all the others, ready for that Christmas market.

That opening track featured some sumptuous saxophone too. Beyond The Sea doesn't deviate from the usual interpretations of it, but is just such a delectable song that it doesn't matter. Wonderful trumpet and saxophone enhances it too. These instrumentations are what makes this an appealing album, not that the others didn't have their share, but it hits you on this one. For example, I've Got You Under My Skin starts with some beautiful bass, followed by violin and accordion and some impressive string orchestration too. I have always loved I Get A Kick Out Of You as well.

Funnily enough, I prefer this album to both Soulbook and Still The Same, Stewart's excursions into soul and rock covers that came just before this one. Obviously, I much prefer his early seventies work but these albums just have to be taken for what they are.

Look, all these albums are listenable if one is in the right mood for them. Putting all five of them on random shuffle is an enjoyable thing to do every now and again.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS BABY (2012)

1. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
3. Winter Wonderland
4. White Christmas
5. Merry Christmas Baby
6. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
7. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
8. Blue Christmas
9. Red-Suited Super Man
10. When You Wish Upon A Star
11. We Three Kings
12. Silent Night
13. Auld Lang Syne

It is a pretty futile affair, reviewing an album like this, to be honest. If you like the material Stewart did on The Great American Songbook, immaculately played with a crystal clear sound, with a few traditional Christmas carols thrown in, and all sung by Stewart in that croaky, reassuring, log fireside, Christmas jumper style then you will absolutely love this. There is lots of 1950s American Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas fare, which, of course, has long been very popular. As an example of its genre it doesn't get much better. There are many, many people who absolutely love this sort of thing. In that respect the album will be perfect. For what is, it can't really be criticised. There are some duets too, Michael Bublé and Mary J. Blige among others.

If, like me, you are an aficionado of Rod Stewart's early seventies work you will just gently shake your head and tut to yourself to think that the person responsible for Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells A Story, the hell-raiser from The Faces, should be offering up stuff like this. I actually have the album. I played it once, and a few tracks from it are in my Christmas random playlist, but, for me, as cheesy Christmas albums go, I find it a bit too sanitised, strangely emotionless. Somehow it gives off the feeling of having been recorded in July. also, there is just too much cheese for me. The cover is positively awful too. I, of course, am thinking far too deeply about it. It is possible to just enjoy it for what it is. Many will do just that.

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