Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Legends of Rock: Al Stewart



About: Al Stewart

Ask Al Stewart to sum up where he is now, musically speaking, and you’re likely to wind up two steps behind where you started; this is by no means an unusual circumstance in conversation with Al, keenly aware as he is that making a leap forward often entails taking a step backward. Sometimes it’s into the library stacks where the late historian Ms. Tuchman dug for material. Sometimes it’s into the record stacks where the late rocker Mr. Cochran made his mark as a teenager singing his “Summertime Blues” so many summertime’s ago.

In many ways, the summertime of Stewart’s 2009 much more resembled his summer of 1969 than it did the summer of 1979, when his multi-million-selling “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages” were staples of FM radio, and he was touring with saxes, synths, singers, and all the accoutrements pop stardom brings. “I don’t think I ever knew how to be in front of a band,” says Al, a little modestly. “I always felt I was loitering there while they were doing all the work.”

With the release of Uncorked, Al and musical partner Dave Nachmanoff take 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. After all, Al made his bones 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 some celebrity upon returning to America.

Recorded live during a springtime East Coast swing, Uncorked 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, even if it meant leaving off such standards as “On the Border” and the two aforementioned Top 40 hits. “Because I’ve learned all of Al’s songs, we had an opportunity to revisit some of the tunes that hadn’t been featured in more recent years,” says Nachmanoff. “I think at this point, we can actually do three or four full shows and never play the same songs twice. And while Al usually comes in to a gig with a set list in mind, often times, we’ll just throw it out and go with the flow.”

As a consequence, it sounds like the duo isn’t merely playing well (fact is, Al’s guitar work is actually even better now than it was back in the day, thanks to the acoustic touring configuration that brings his musical contributions more to the fore), it sounds like they’re having fun. And if the title tracks from albums like Last Days of the Century and Bedsitter Images don’t immediately conjure images of major-label milestones, that’s just fine with Al. “It’s much more enjoyable for me to hear myself and for the audience to hear the words,” says Stewart. “And the audience seems to agree. The way I look at it, if I can still get everybody on their hind legs at the end of a show cheering, then I’ve won.”

Like Uncorked itself, that’s vintage Al.


The making of “Sparks of Ancient Light” (2008)



Elvis at the Wheel - 2008 - (Official Video)



A Beach Full of Shells - 2005 (Full Album)



Down in the Cellers - 2000 From “Down in the Cellar” (Audio)



Marion of Chatelaine - 1995 From “Between the Wars” (Audio)



Laughing into 1939 – 1995 From “Between the Wars” (Audio)



Feel Like – 1993 From “Famous Last Words”



Ghost of Charlotte Corday – 1993 From “Famous Last Words”



Last Days of the Century – 1988 (Live)



Roads to Moscow – 2013 (Live in Montreal)



Carol – 2014 (Live Fairport)



Midas Shadow – 2009 (Live)



Year of the Cat – 2013 – (Live at the Royal Albert Hall)



Year of the Cat – 1976 - (Live)



On the Border – 1976 - (Live)



One Stage Before – 1976 (Audio)



Broadway Hotel – 1976 (Audio)



Flying Sorcery – 1976 (Audio)



Nostradamus – 1974 - (Fan Video)



Past, Present Future - 1974 - (Full Album)



Al Stewart – Official Website
http://www.alstewart.com/
Al Stewart - MySpace
https://myspace.com/officialalstewart
Al Stewart - Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/officialalstewart
Al Stewart - Twitter
https://twitter.com/alstewartinfo
Al Stewart - Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Stewart
BUY MUSIC
Al Stewart – Official Store
http://myiesstore.com/alstewart/
Al Stewart - iTunes
https://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/al-stewart/id4211328
Al Stewart - Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/Al-Stewart/e/B000ARA0LM
Al Stewart – CD Baby
http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/AlStewart1

Career: (Extracted from Wikipedia)


Al Stewart's first record was the single "The Elf" (backed with a version of the Yardbirds' "Turn into Earth"), which was released in 1966 on Decca Records and included guitar work from Jimmy Page (later of the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin), the first of many leading guitarists Stewart worked with, including Richard Thompson, Tim Renwick, and Peter White. Stewart then signed to Columbia Records (CBS in the UK), for whom he released six albums. Though the first four of these attracted relatively little commercial interest, Stewart's popularity and cult following grew steadily through albums that contain some of Stewart's most incisive and introspective songwriting.

Early albums (1967–1973)

Stewart's debut album Bedsitter Images was released on LP in 1967 (though technically his first recording was 'The Elf', released by Decca in 1966, which sold an estimated 496 copies). A revised version appeared in 1970 as The First Album (Bedsitter Images) with a few tracks changed, and the album was reissued on CD in 2007 with all tracks from both versions. His first recording of any kind appears on Jackson C. Frank's first album, 1965's Jackson C. Frank, playing guitar on "Yellow Walls".

Love Chronicles (1969) was notable for the 18-minute title track, an anguished autobiographical tale of sexual encounters that was the first mainstream record release ever to include the word "fucking". It was voted "Folk Album of the Year" by the UK music magazine Melody Maker and features Jimmy Page and Richard Thompson on guitar.

His third album, Zero She Flies, followed in 1970 and included a number of shorter songs which ranged from acoustic ballads and instrumentals to songs that featured electric lead guitar. These first three albums (including The Elf) were later released as the two-CD set To Whom it May Concern: 1966–70.

In 1970, Stewart and fellow musician Ian A. Anderson headed to the small town of Pilton, Somerset. There, at Michael Eavis's Worthy Farm, Stewart performed at the first-ever Glastonbury festival to a field of 1,000 hippies, who had paid just £1 each to be there.

On the back of his growing success, Stewart released Orange in 1972. It was very much a transitional album, combining songs in Stewart's confessional style with more intimations of the historical themes that he would increasingly adopt (e.g., "The News from Spain" with its prog-rock overtones, including dramatic piano by Rick Wakeman).

The fifth release, Past, Present and Future (1973), was Stewart's first album to receive a proper release in the United States, via Janus Records. It echoed a traditional historical storytelling style and contained the song "Nostradamus," a long (9:43) track in which Stewart tied into the rediscovery of the claimed seer's writings by referring to selected possible predictions about 20th century people and events. While too long for mainstream radio airplay at that time, the song became a hit on many US college/university radio stations, which were flexible about running times.

Such airplay helped the album to reach No. 133 on the Billboard album chart in the US. Other songs on Past, Present and Future characterized by Stewart's 'history genre' mentioned American President Warren Harding, World War II, Ernst Röhm, Christine Keeler, Louis Mountbatten, and Joseph Stalin's purges.

Alan Parsons years (1975–1978)

Stewart followed Past, Present and Future with Modern Times (1975), in which the songs were lighter on historical references and more of a return to the theme of short stories set to music. Significantly, though, it was the first of his albums to be produced by Alan Parsons.

In a highly positive retrospective review of Modern Times, Allmusic senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine described the album as "exquisite". Erlewine wrote that the album "establishes Stewart's classic sound of folky narratives and Lennonesque melodies, all wrapped up in a lush, layered production from Alan Parsons. The production gives epics like the title track a real sense of grandeur that makes their sentiments resonate strongly."

Modern Times produced Stewart's first hit single, "Carol". The album reached No. 30 in the US and received substantial airplay on album-oriented stations some 30 years before Bob Dylan would release an album of the same name.

Stewart's contract with CBS Records expired at this point, and he signed to RCA Records for the world outside North America. His first two albums for RCA, Year of the Cat (released on Janus Records in the U.S., then reissued by Arista Records after Janus folded) and Time Passages (released in the U.S. on Arista), set the style for his later work and have been his biggest-selling recordings.

Stewart told Kaya Burgess of The Times: "When I finished Year of the Cat, I thought: ‘If this isn’t a hit, then I can’t make a hit.’ We finally got the formula exactly right."

The most remarkable fact about this album is that Stewart had all of the music and orchestration written and completely recorded before he even had a title for any of the songs. He mentioned, in a Canadian radio interview, that he has done this for six of his albums, and he often writes four different sets of lyrics for each song.

Both albums reached the top ten in the US, with "Year of the Cat" peaking at No. 5 and "Time Passages" at No. 10, and both albums produced hit singles in the US ("Year of the Cat" No. 8, and "On the Border", #42; "Time Passages" No. 7 and "Song on the Radio", #29). Meanwhile "Year of the Cat" became Stewart's first chart single in Britain, where it peaked at No. 31. It was a huge success at London's Capital Radio, reaching number 2 on their Capital Countdown chart. The overwhelming success of these songs on the two albums, both of which still receive substantial radio airplay on classic-rock/pop format radio stations, has perhaps later overshadowed the depth and range of Stewart's body of songwriting.

1980s

Stewart then released 24 Carrots (#37 US 1980) and his first live album Live/Indian Summer (#110 US 1981), with both featuring backing by Peter White's band Shot in the Dark (who released their own unsuccessful album in 1981). While "24 Carrots" did produce a No. 24 single with "Midnight Rocks", the album sold less well than its two immediate predecessors.

After those releases, Stewart was dropped by Arista and his popularity declined. Despite his lower profile and waning commercial success, he continued to tour the world, record albums, and maintain a loyal fanbase. There was a four-year gap between his next two albums, the highly political Russians and Americans (1984) and the upbeat pop-oriented Last Days of the Century (1988), which appeared on smaller labels and had lower sales than his previous works.

1990s

Stewart followed up with his second live album, the acoustic Rhymes in Rooms (1992), which featured only himself and Peter White, and Famous Last Words (1993), which was dedicated to the memory of the late Peter Wood (co-writer of "Year of the Cat"), who died the year of its release.

After parting ways with his longtime collaborator of almost twenty years, Peter White (who was credited on every studio and live album between Year of the Cat and Famous Last Words and also served as his regular songwriting partner), Stewart joined up with former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber (who was also producer) and followed up with a concept album, Between the Wars (1995), covering major historical and cultural events from 1918 to 1939, such as the Versailles Treaty, Prohibition, the Spanish Civil War, and the Great Depression. Juber would end up producing and be credited on all of Stewart's subsequent studio albums.

In 1995, Stewart was invited to play at the 25th anniversary Glastonbury festival, taking to the same stage he had graced in 1970 at the first-ever festival.

21st century

In 2000, Stewart released Down in the Cellar, a concept album themed on wine. Stewart had begun a love affair with wine in the 1970s when, he admitted, he had more money than he knew how to spend, and so turned to fine wines.

In 2005, he released A Beach Full of Shells, which was set in places varying from First World War England to the 1950s rock 'n' roll scene that influenced him.

In 2008, he released Sparks of Ancient Light, produced, like his most recent albums, by Laurence Juber. Here he weaves tales of William McKinley, Lord Salisbury, and Hanno the Navigator. A video for the song "Elvis at the Wheel" was released in December 2013.

Stewart and guitarist Dave Nachmanoff released a live album, Uncorked, on Stewart's label, Wallaby Trails Recordings, in 2009. They played the Glastonbury Festival 40th anniversary in June 2010 on the acoustic stage.

Stewart sang a duet with Albert Hammond of Hammond's "It Never Rains in Southern California" on Hammond's 2010 album Legend.

In 2011, Stewart sang a duet with his guitarist and opening act Dave Nachmanoff on Nachmanoff's album Step Up. The song, "Sheila Won't Be Coming Home", was co-written by Stewart and Nachmanoff.

 

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