Ron Wood's Worst Better Than Ev-ah!
J P Ryan | Waltham, Massachusetts United States | 04/28/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Ron Wood's problem with freebase cocaine had escalated to such an alarming degree by 1981 that he couldn't even count his solo albums to date - five, counting "Mahoney's Last Stand" (recommended) - not 1234 as the title of this uncharacteristicaly off-putting effort by one of rock 'n' roll's most distinctive, subtle, and recognizable guitar stylists would lead one to believe. After a decade of superfine music with The Birds (1964 - 66), Jeff Beck Group (1967 - 69), Creation, and Faces (1969 - 75), Wood began work on his first solo album, "I've Got My Own Album To Do" in 1974, a star-studded project (George Harrison, Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Mick Taylor, Ian McLagan) that evolved into a collaboration with Keith Richards just as Taylor was ready to leave the Stones. By 1975 Wood was touring and recording with the Rolling Stones as he worked concurrently with Faces (always the trooper) through the end of the year, when Stewart finally announced he was leaving that band to work with "real" (i.e. session) musicians in L.A. With his second solo effort, 1975's "Now Look", Wood created his best, most cohesive album, at least until 2002's "Not For Beginners". He sang well, supported by another terrific collaborator, Bobby Womack, along with strong performances from Keith Richards, Ian McLagan, Mick Taylor (hear Wood and the man he replaced sizzle on the dense funk workout 'It's Unholy'), Sly Stone's drummer Andy Newmark, and Womack's bassist Willie Weeks, producing a wonderful collection of great songs seemlessly integrating contemporary funk and soul into his patented rock 'n' roll. "Mahoney's" (1976), the sound track to an early Sam Waterston ('Law and Order') film, found Wood and Lane in Faces mode, evoking "Long Player" and "Gasoline Alley" with effortlessly swinging intstrumentals and a few songs that would have ranked with Faces' best (the scorching 'Mona The Blues', the delicate and haunting 'Just For A Moment'). 1979's "Gimme Some Neck" was unsumpathetically produced by Cars/Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker, but the one-off New Barbarians - Wood, Richards, Bobby Keys, Stanley Clarke, Meters drummer Joseph Modeliste, and McLagan - toured the States as the '70s closed, a druggy, and this ramshackle band of master musicians dazzled with their dirty, joyous noise a little more often than they teetered into shambalic disarray, and "Live In Maryland" (issued by Wood in 2006) captures the spirit and the history nicely.
By 1981 Wood's voice had deteriorated to a mere husk, hardly capable of inhaling life into the slicker soul ballads ('Fountain Of Love' 'Priceless' pale next to the far superior "Now Look") and sub-Faces rockers ('Outlaws') contained within this, Wood's least satisfying solo set. Nevertheless, there are a few gems salvaged from four months of expensive Los Angeles studio time. And this new Japanese DSD remastered disc is so much warmer, more detailed, than the old Sony CD that it almost sounds new again. The rumbling title track features Wood's layred guitars and fat bass over an oddly infectious groove, marred only by the strained vocal. Better by far are the albums two best tracks: the bluesy Stones shuffle (featuring Charlie Watts, dedicated to Jagger) 'Redeyes', a slinky instrumental, definitely a keeper. Even better is the rattlesnake Diddley-bop of 'Wind Howlin' Through', which snarls and kicks hard enough to make me wish the Rolling Stones included it on "Emotional Rescue" or "Tattoo You". Now this gorgrous 'album replica' CD is conveniently discounted, so if you have any of this underrated legend's other solo albums there's no excuse not to pick this one up for three or four killer tracks and the nostalgic chemical whiff of freebase wafting out of your speakers. I guarantee a better transfer (and more faithful graphics) will not be released in the forseeable future. Finally, ot's "12345", Ron!"