In many ways, the latest album in Stewart’s catalog more resembled his late sixties efforts than it did the two aforementioned records that, during the summer of 1979, were staples of FM radio.
Produced by Alan Parsons (who was also behind the board for an album called Dark Side Of The Moon that some of you may have heard of), these albums were full of finely crafted songs with full arrangements and lots of historical imagery, all hallmarks of Al's style.
In those days, Al was touring with saxes, synths, singers, and all the accoutrements pop stardom brings.
Last night, at the Musical Instrument Museum (second show tonight!!) in Phoenix, Arizona, Al and musical partner Dave Nachmanoff took a trip through Stewart’s musical back pages, both in terms of the musical catalogue (they did have nearly 20 albums’ worth of songs to pick from), and in terms of performance style.
Al cut his musical teeth in the massively fertile folk scene that was London in the late ’60s, and he numbers among his contemporaries the likes of guitar wizards Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, singer-songwriters Roy (“Hats Off To”) Harper and Richard Thompson, and a former flatmate named Paul Simon, who went on to have some success in America as part of a duo with some Garfunkel chap.
Stewart's latest effort, Uncorked, a life effort featruing Al and sideman Dave Nachmanoff, recorded during an East Coast swing, is the first live acoustic disc Al’s done since 1992’s Rhymes In Rooms, and both he and Nachmanoff made a conscious decision not to replicate any of the tracks from that disc.
What that meant was leaving off such standards as “On the Border” and the two aforementioned Top 40 hits, giving them an opportunity to revisit some of the tunes that, while having received less radio play, were (as Al said to me last night when I called out a request) "more interesting."
The duo does not just play well; Al’s guitar work seems better now than when he had a band behind him, and the acoustic touring configuration brings his musical contributions more to the fore.
Dave is simply amazing-during a couple of songs, he tackles synthesizer or sax solos on an acoustic guitar and does them justice.
Most important, it looks and sounds like they’re having fun.
The title tracks from albums like Last Days of the Century and Bedsitter Images don’t immediately conjure images of major-label milestones, but the acoustic arrangements bring the lyrics to even more prominence in the performance.
All in all, Uncorked is far more than just a concert souvenir, but a revisiting and, in some cases, a reimagining of some essential songs, many of which were never given the airplay they deserved.
Discover them for the first time, or reacquaint yourself with them. Available at CD Baby, Amazon, or Al's website.
THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES
THE COLDEST WINTER IN MEMORY
The poster below is a collage, done in the style of the Sgt. Pepper album cover, featuring all of the historical figures mentioned in Al's lyrics.
How many can you name?