Tuesday, September 8, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: FACES - 1970 - 1975: You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, Or Anything...

It finally happened this past weekend, a Faces reunion. It's long been promised, and even Rod Stewart said it was definitely coming when he played PEI in July. It was just a one-off thing apparently, seven songs at a cancer benefit, but who knows, certainly there's lots of interest for a tour. It's just too bad it came too late for keyboardist Ian McLagan, who died last December, and of course Ronnie Lane has been gone since '97. I guess Rod finally figured he'd better stop delaying. The other two have long been open to anything.

The gig came at the same time as the release of this brand-new Faces box set, a collection of the four studio albums they issued in the '70's, plus a separate disc of various non-album singles and b-sides from along the way. Although vinyl is probably the coolest version of the box, the CD package features bonus cuts on each original album, including out-takes, live versions, BBC recordings and different takes, so it's a little more beefy than the LP set.

The first album, First Step, was still credited to Small Faces in North America, so that consumers would know those was a continuation of the hit-making British group. What a make-over. Small Faces had actually disbanded after Steve Marriott quit, but getting in the duo of Ron Wood and Rod Stewart fresh from the Jeff Beck Group was a great coup. The pair proved strong songwriters and Stewart's rasp and blues swagger was by then fully developed. Wood was finally able to let loose on guitar after being on bass for Beck, and was ready to go wild on slide. First Step showed much potential, and included the blues flight of Flying, the rollicking Three Button Hand Me Down and Ronnie Lane's folksy charm in Stone.

The Faces kept getting better with each album, a rare thing. 1971's Long Player gave nod to the growing reputation they had as a terrific concert band with two live tracks, including a version of Paul McCartney's recent Maybe I'm Amazed, featuring Lane and Stewart as co-lead singers. It was an embarrassment of riches, with Lane contributing his more bucolic, easy-going numbers in the middle of Stewart and Wood's rough-and-tumble numbers such as Bad 'n' Ruin.

A Nod Is As Good As A Wink ... To A Blind Horse came quickly after in late '71, By now the band had it down cold, and classic songs were coming from them. Stay With Me is one of the great party-rockers of all time, and Lane's Debris a matching one of beauty. Miss Judy's Farm and You're So Rude continued the good times. But all was not well; Stewart was becoming a much bigger star as a solo artist (Maggie May, etc.) and Lane was chafing to record more of his own material.

Lane would get a much bigger share on the Ooh La La album of '73, thanks to Stewart's long periods away from the group. Although Stewart famously dismissed the album, it is the equal to, if not better than A Nod..., thanks to the strength of Lane's songs and the engine that was the McLagan-Jones-Woods-Lane combo. Silicone Grown and Cindy Incidentally were smart and sassy, perfect for Stewart when he finally showed up for the sessions, and Lane's charming title cut something from the very top of his game.

That was it for Lane though, he wasn't going to wait around to be in Stewart's backing band, as the concerts were becoming. After he left to go solo, the band went on with Tetsu Yamauchi from Free joining, but only a live album and a couple of more singles would follow. Finally after much will they/won't they talk, Ron Wood gave up on his partner and joined up with The Rolling Stones, a painful and unsatisfying end.

The final disc wraps up those stray singles and b-sides, most of them quite good, including the studio version of Maybe I'm Amazed, a live take on The Temptations' I Wish It Would Rain, and the raucous Pool Hall Richard. In the small complaints department, I certainly think they could have included the 1974 live album Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners, to make this truly complete. Don't expect a detailed history either, the skimpy booklet only has the track listings and credits. But if this reunion talk gets you interested, or reminds you of those days, you can't go wrong here.

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