Ron Wood, Could, and Did -- Now Listen...
J P Ryan | Waltham, Massachusetts United States | 07/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ron Wood's "Now Look" was released in June 1975, at a time when Wood certainly earned his first place showing as 'most valuable player' in "Creem" magazine's annual poll. Wood was everywhere that year, starting with a spring Faces tour, followed by his long anticipated debut with The Rolling Stones on their Tour Of The Americas that summer, and returning for a fall farewell tour of the States with Faces. In between there were recording sessions with Faces (one new single, and several tracks for a never-completed final studio album), work on the Stones' "Black and Blue", a variety of live guest appearences (Led Zeppelin) and sessions with the likes of Eric Clapton and Keith Moon.
Most revealingly, Wood somehow remained committed to both Faces and The Stones for over a year, though one can imagine stress and a sense of inevitability permeated the Faces' camp. Whatever the strain on a great band that always lived in the shadow (usually Rod Stewart's), I caught them on that last tour, exuding the joyful camaraderie and rocking with the controlled looseness that made them so special, even if the set was dominated by Stewart's, and now Wood's solo material. When the end came that December, it was Rod Stewart who announced he was leaving the band, moving to L.A. (and beginning a long, depressing artistic decline) to live and work with 'real' (i.e. session) musicians.
Ron Wood's direct involvement with the Stones began early in 1974, when Keith Richards became Wood's main collaborator on the latter's solo debut, "I've Got My Own Album To Do" (singing, playing, and contributing two new Jagger/Richards songs). Around the same time Wood co-wrote 'It's Only Rock 'N Roll' with Mick Jagger. Wood's debut album featured Stewart, Jagger, George Harrison, Mick Taylor, and Mick Waller, but it was the core band (Richards, fellow-Face Ian McLagan, ex-Sly Stone drummer Andy Newmark, and bassist Willie Weeks) and mostly superb material that made the album a cohesive cross between the Stones and Faces, with a 'funkier' rhythm section. The album holds up, except for the unfortunate backing vocals of the Chanter Sisters on a couple tracks, and the rare intrusion of an ARP synthesizer. Indeed, material from the album was performed on both Faces and Stones tours over the following year.
"Now Look", the less star-studded followup is even better. In retrosect, it's clear Wood is not just a songwriter and guitarist with histinctive and extraordinary style. Equally crucial is his remarkable gift for collaboration, and for "Now Look" Bobby Womack was on board, the soul great whose guitar and songs graced classics by Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket, Gabor Szabo, the Box Tops, and even Sly & The Family Stone's legendary "There's A Riot Goin' On". Womack co-produces with Wood and McLagan, and "Now Look" sounds like "Riot" in places, thanks to that inimitable Womack guitar as well as the dense rhythm tracks. "Now Look" bears a similar relationship to its predecessor that "Black and Blue" does to "It's Only Rock 'n Roll" - both NL and B&B overtly incorporate contemporary black styles such as funk (The Meters, J.B.'s), Philly Soul, Fats Waller, and reggae in the Stones case, resulting in a very enjoyable transitional work, full of great grooves and ensemble playing but only a few first rate songs (i.e. "Fool To Cry"). "Now Look" is likewise steeped in then-recent black idioms, but feels more integrated, with classic soul and funk merging seamlessly, amidst the Stones' guitar grunge courtesy Keith on Wood/Womack' satisfyingly extended "I Can Say She's Alright" and a great cover of Ann Peebles' Hi Records hit "I Can't Stand The Rain." It's a joy to listen to Keith sing harmony along with Ron on one of Wood's greatest songs, 'Breathe On Me' which debuted here in a sensuous and intimate six-and-a-half-minute version. Add "I Got Lost When I Found You," "I Got A Feeling", and "If You Don't Want My Love" and the result is not just a great groove album but an album of terrific songs. As expected, Womack and Wood make a terrific guitar team. Wood's vocals - backed by Womack's - may not seem to be up to such material but his occasionally wavering pitch and genuine feel for the material gives the album its delicacy and vulnerability. I should also point out another highlight, "It's Unholy," a funky Isleys-type groove that turns into a masterful polyrhythmic jam, and a rare appearence of both Wood and the man he replaced, Mick Taylor (who was present on two or three songs on "I've Got"). Taylor's scorching slide helps make it easily the best thing they worked on together. Once again Wood uses Ian McLagan and the Newmark/Weeks rhythm section on nearly every track (Faces drummer Kenny Jones plays on two).
Wood has successfully collaborated with Stewart, Ronnie Lane, Jagger, Richards, Bernard Fowler, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Bo Diddley among others, and song-for-song "Now Look" is more consistant than any Womack album. Rather than recalling a Faces/Stones love child, this album establishes its owns identity as a great rock/soul/funk album, better than ever thirty years after its release. Now if only, say, Rhinohandmade would upgrade the 1993 remaster with a new "Complete Warner Bros Recordings" I'd really be happy."