Monday 12 December 2016

David Crosby "Lighthouse" (2016)

Available to buy in ebook format 'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of CSNY' by clicking here!

David Crosby "Lighthouse" (2016)

Things We Do For Love/The Us Below/Drive Out To The Desert/Look In Their Eyes/Somebody Other Than You/The City/Paint You A Picture/What Makes It So/By The Light Of The Common Day

'Leave a light on, all night long...'

For all their feuding across 2016, Crosby and Nash have released spookily similar solo albums this year. Graham's 'This Path Tonight' was a slow, brooding, mainly acoustic album about coming out of darkness that's mainly about love and taking chances, written with the help of a hip young collaborator half Graham's age. Crosby's 'Lighthouse' is a slow, brooding, almost entirely acoustic album about having found light and the need not to take any chances any more, written with a hip young collaborator in Snarky Puppy's Michael League that's half David's age. Graham's album comes with a cover where a dark path leading into the light; David's comes with the beacon of hope in full bloom. You can tell the differences straight away, although they're really not that great and the songs sound at first hearing near enough identical with lots of zen, hope and karma in the imagery. There is a difference though and it's a big one that finds the two former friends at very different stages in their life: Nash is crossing his fingers and hoping for a better future with a new girl after decades of marriage where he admits now he felt trapped; Crosby is basking in the warm glow of three decades of marriage to his wife Jan and is enjoying a stability he's never ever found in his turbulent life before. Nash is walking down a path and hoping he'll find light love at the end of it; Crosby is already there and it shines like a beacon, with the storm receding into the background. It's an odd switch-around for CSNY's most stable member and their former loose cannon to find themselves in. While former Crosby albums, like Nash's new one, promote adventure promise and doing something new, David has now caught up with Graham's old ones and now promotes family life, with two cats in the yard and life used to be so hard but everything is easy because of wife Jan and son Django.

This is, believe it or not, new ground. While love is central to many records and always will be, it's never really been central to Crosby's before now. In time gone by David promoted the idea of 'triads', of open relationships between multiple partners and openly enjoyed his promiscuous ways even while dedicated to each partner in turn. Even after Croz did meet his partner Jan in the mid-1970s his drug intake stymied his creativity to the point where we never really got a full album of love songs from him. The records made after his time in prison in the mid-1980s tended to be songs reaching out to other people in dark places, to help them find their 'compass' and reflect on the shock that, after assuming for years that he was doomed to die young, Crosby was still here and kicking. Then, of course, there were so many crooked politicians to write about (oddly, for such a political band, neither Crosby nor Nash have chosen to take Donald Trump to task despite his rise this year; maybe it's coming on Crosby's sequel due early next year?) Now, at 75, Crosby seems to have realised that he's here for good and his marriage probably is as well after 37 years and he can grow to rely on those around him and celebrate them in song. No one would ever have picked out the younger Croz as a natural family man but he's grown into the part well and made it his own. There are some truly gorgeous blissful moments on 'Lighthouse' that don't go anywhere new or embed them into your skull with their honesty and autobiography anymore or with the invention and daring the way the songs on 'If Only I Could Remember My Name' and past classics did, but then 'Lighthouse' isn't really that kind of an album. It's content instead just to be, to sit there in the 'mood' across a full track, basking in the glow of a particular chord or lyric phrase, taking the time to take in the sights, smell the roses and count it's blessings. Some songs, such as album highlight 'The Things We Do For Love', are profound in their stillness, going everywhere and taking in everything without really saying much at all; 'Paint You A Picture' tries to capture the current moment of happiness in time forever; actually the only song that doesn't suit this vibe is the one track that finds Crosby going outside the family home and exploring 'The City', a dark and dangerous place, though even this song is full of love and expression (and my guess is that rather than being a generic everywoman character this city girl, 'dangerous by night', might be actress Drew Barrymore who for a time lived with the Crosbys in the 1990s when she was thirteen during her own time searching for roots and stability).

Being Crosby's most homely album lyrically, it makes sense that 'Lighthouse' has an acoustic vibe we've never really had across a full Crosby album before. Even though the majority of it features guitar rather than piano the songwriter it sounds most like is Joni Mitchell - Crosby's discovery and one-time girlfriend who spent so many of her songs observing and commenting; usually Crosby is more of a doer and thinker, but here the songs aren't about him but the life around him. Joni is, sadly, still absent from the musical world following her brain aneurysm last year; Crosby, always the most honest and entertaining figure on twitter for us fans, answers more questions about her health than any other item it seems but has no more news than the rest of us. Instead he keeps telling fans that his favourite writer in the whole world is still Joni, even after all these years, all those other great figures he's hung out with and the fact that he once 'lost' her to his former best friend, turned fiend Nash. Joni's trick, at least until she discovered synthesisers in the 1980s, was to always let the songs breathe - to leave lots of spaces and breaks between the words, as if pausing for breath mid-line. Crosby does the same here a lot and it's a subtle change in his songwriting voice. Though these songs are usually personal they often feel as 'detached' as Joni's personal songs too, as if they're happening to someone else in the third person and don't involve sudden moments of emotion or power that were once such a part of Crosby's style ('What Are Their Names?' slow rise and fall of tension is pure Crosby for instance). It helps too that guest singer Becca Stevens sounds not unlike Joni anyway (Crosby should make an album with Art Garfunkel's partner Mia Sharp - they'd sound great together!) This album is still too knew and too fresh to be truly reviewed in this sense yet, but after the first half-a-dozen playings (the AAA is a few weeks ahead of itself so I'm actually writing this review less than a week after the record was released) it sounds like a grower: on the first listen nothing happens, on the second listen not much more happens, but by the sixth there's colour and texture here missed the first time round. It makes sense, too, that this sounds more like an album of (admittedly gloriously recorded) demos more than anything else - and that League encouraged Crosby to write and record it within three days, as simply as possible (in other words it's the first Croz album to engage with Neil Young's old 'first thought, best thought, only thought' policy - it's a lot better than 'Greendale', that's all I'm saying).

In other words, it couldn't be less different than the last solo effort 'Croz' only released a couple of years ago (a blink of an eye in Crosby discography terms - old age has really boosted his creativity lately!) Though a lot of fans adored that record I never really did - it was all a bit in-yer-face and tried a little too hard to be radio-friendly and commercial. That album actually used up most of my goodwill after the first listen as I kept hearing bits of recycled Crosby songs that hadn't quite been joined up into new ones yet, played in a style that felt forced. For a songwriter who always prided himself on sounding not like anyone else on earth (no jazz tunings!) 'Croz' sounded like an identity crisis, despite the name in the title and perhaps a little desperate for a hit (to be fair Crosby did really need the money at the time, I'd have probably done the same, only far worse). By contrast 'Lighthouse's greatest strength is that it doesn't care what anyone thinks - it's going to be ooze natural Crosby loveliness in a variety of slow acoustic ballads that make the most out of sounding like pure Crosby tunes, even  if this too sounds a little like recycling at times. The album's weakness however is its lack of variety - while 'Croz' jumped around a lot and got annoying that way, this album is content to sit in a rocking chair and barely move, across almost of the (rather short) running time of 40 minutes. That's fine if you want to meditate while the album is on in the background - of all the CSNY works in their by now pretty hefty canon this is the most suitable for that, with no sudden surprises, changes of direction or mood swings. 'Drive Out To The Desert', for instance, is about that very subject, of emptying your mind and enjoying simply being alive while feeling 'humble'.

The other sad loss is Crosby's other son, James Raymond. The two haven't had a falling out or anything (unlike most people in the CSNY camp these days I fear), but 'Croz' was almost as equally a Raymond album as Crosby brought himself slowly up to full speed after a short creative drought. After all, if you can't write with your talented keyboard-playing children, who can you write with? At times James' commercial ear got slightly in the way of that album, made largely in his studio (and with dad sleeping on a couch so as not to break the muse); by contrast 'Lighthouse' is a family album all the way through - despite the fact James doesn't play a note. That's a shame because James is, at least on the CPR albums, Crosby's perfect foil - enough like him but just different enough to bring out a new direction and with even greater jazz chops. Much as I didn't like 'Croz' the album, I've always enjoyed their partnership. By contrast Snarky Puppy's Michael League isn't in the same, well, league. I must confess I don't really understand the Puppy's music which reads on paper like a CSNY fanatic's wet dream: jazzy, eccentric and forthright. In practice it just sounds like a lot of funky rough edges with no real tune (Crosby clearly hears something I don't hear, but then I'm not that keen on his other love Steely Dan for much the same reasons). To give him credit, League doesn't do the obvious thing I was fearing and make a 'jazz' Crosby album (although I'm sure Croz has got one in him somewhere) - however 'Lighthouse' does bear all his hallmarks as producer in being a strangely melody-less album with no songs you can hum after the record ends (at least on the first half-dozen listens - that might change too with time). Crosby is one of the greatest melodic writers there ever was, but none of the tunes on this album stand out at all. Oddly for a producer whose spent so much of his career working with rhythm first and foremost, nor do the beats with virtually the only percussion on this album coming from Crosby's own wedding ring, plucking away at the side of his acoustic. Though the album's an improvement, I'd have rather have James back again (assuming we couldn't get SN or Y). Funnily enough Michael sounds not unlike Nash at times across this album when he sings - while weirdly Graham's new collaborator Shane Fontayne sounded not unlike Crosby!

I miss, too, the emotional revelations of the CPR days. back then Crosby was still so shocked at being alive and healthy that his songs had a certain edge, a ticking time-bomb that was urging him to reveal everything about his thoughts on life from un-expunged loss ('Somehow She Knew'), death ('Time Is The Final Currency') and just how desperately he needed family around him ('At The Edge', this album's parent song' in that it refers to a family as a lighthouse for the first time). This album isn't 'what did they do with the life they gave you?' put-your-life-straight-now! kind of songs but 'lie on your back and your eyes will finally see' kind of songs. There's room for both sorts of course and it's great to hear someone we love as much as Crosby sounding so happy for the first time across a whole CD - if anyone deserves a record full of peace and tranquillity it's Croz and it's good to hear he's found it despite ongoing money problems and band problems. This isn't a problem as such, but it does stop 'Lighthouse; from being one of those definitive career-changing albums (the way I suspect 'This Path Tonight' will be seen). This isn't an album that raises it's game through guilt about the past, pressure from the present or fears of the future but one that's having fun in the here and now and doesn't have much ambition past that.

The closest this album comes is the album's other highlight 'Look In Their Eyes', the only real bit of political commentary here. Crosby is observing again, watching media coverage of the refugee camps in France (in case this period gets white-washed in history in the future, it was the deeply mortifying moment when most European countries decided that it was somebody else's job to house the poor, needy and hungry and turned their backs on them to starve in a man-made jungle). Crosby wonders why they're being painted as villains, scoundrels and chancers when all they're trying to do is live - a 'look in their eyes' telling him far more than a biased news report. 'They don't mean a thing to you' he snarls - and yet even this song isn't angry or bitter the way the old Crosby of 'Long Time Gone' or even as recent as 'They Want It All' would have been. It's as if Crosby's used to the stupidity of man by now - he's not going to waste his temper on it now. It's a shame though that he doesn't lose it a little more across this album, if only for variety (the only other song that tries the same trick is 'Someone Other Than You' but even this is only angry in a Phil Collins 'Another Day In Paradise' type way - yep, Crosby was on that song too!)

Overall, though, 'Lighthouse' is a strong return to form - probably Crosby's best work since the under-rated CPR albums in 1999 and 2001. However I'm not sure I agree with some fans who are rating this album as being up there with the very best and comparing it to Croz's younger work. There simply isn't any new ground covered here; no brave stabs at politicians we can get behind, no new styles to get lost in, no massive outpouring of the soul and no real 'wow' moments (though 'For Love' comes closest). That doesn't make it a bad album - in fact it's rather good - but it's not un-missable the way that so much of Crosby's past works were. It's a soft pretty thankful sigh of an album rather than an emotional maelstrom the way that 'If Only I Could' or 'Oh! Yes I Can' were. However in its own way this album of acoustic loveliness is brave. After years of being one of the loudest, most opinionated musicians on the planet, with an opinion on everything (often in contrast to his reputation as part of a mellow hippie band) this is Crosby at last living in the moment and feeling 'small' and humble. That is quite a journey in itself - and funnily a very similar one to Graham's on 'This Path Tonight' where he too found humility by being small and vulnerable. However what this album doesn't have is the dancing shadows of darkness to give it an extra dimension or three.

Though like most of the CSNY fanbase I have a stance on the current feud despite not having seen the emails that apparently ended everything (I'm by and large on Crosby's side - Nash's comments in his 'Wild Tales' book were spiky and Crosby was right to want a correction, although given this album's vibe about family life and the fact that Crosby was right there when Graham met wife Susan and spent a lot of time with them both Nash's departure for a younger model may not have sat well with him either, especially the same year Young chose to do the same); the more troubled times and excitement of the new led Nash to write the better and more daring album in the CSNY this year. Both, however, are fine works - far better than we have any right to expect from musicians now in their 70s. If quiet, peaceful, still, acoustic CSN albums is up your alley then this is the record you've longed for - doubly so if that's what you hoped 'Stills Alone' from 1991 was going to be alike before you realise how much his voice had aged - and did we mention that Crosby's voice is still as warm and gorgeous and subtle as ever? Like a lighthouse before you, at the edge of the sea, this is an album to remind you that the darkness won't get you, that your family won't go, that you'll end up where you know you should go. And that makes 'Lighthouse' more like 'This Path Tonight' than perhaps either man is prepared to admit.

Opener 'The Things We Do For Love' is gorgeous, like all your blissful hippie Christmasses come at once. An angelic, fragile backing is the perfect accompaniment for a lyric about a girl whose terrified of losing her love and will do anything to hold it. Crosby's narrator is clearly moved at witnessing this, though his response is not to tell her he loves her or do anything drastic but to prove to her, slowly, day by day, how much he lovers her back. This song is clearly about his and Jan's courtship, which took place down 'parallel tracks' that were always going to align themselves one day - the two lovers were clearly fated and couldn't help it. A rare example of a full group chorus on this album (mainly multiple Crosbys, with a few Michael Leagues for good measure) sudden allow this timid, nervy little song to blossom into full bloom and it's simply breathtaking, with a sudden burst of beauty and confidence that makes it sound the same, yet different. Crosby's pure vocal is beautiful - his strongest in years - as he tries to calm doubts, smooth fears and contradict his early songs of time-ticking by telling the couple not to worry - they have oh 'so much time' to spend together and get it right. They're clearly meant to be a couple so they were always going to get it together eventually. The fact we're hearing this other acoustic picking that sounds a little like 'Guinevere', that other Crosby song about time immemorial across the ages, only heightens that feeling about fate and certainty even if the song ends with a troubled question mark ('where do you stand?', a line perhaps addressed to Nash or Young or both). There's a stark contrast here between Graham's boredom and need to discover something new and David's belief that if you've found the right partner time spent together will only make you closer, not split you apart. The clear album highlight and easily the best and most substantial Crosby song of the 21st century so far.

'The Us Below' is melodically 'In My Dreams' with a few alterations. This is quite a noisy song by this album's standards, reaching a peak of indignation in the middle and a few atonal jazz chords either side of it. The lyrics are more memorable than the melody and finds Crosby in awe at the sheer size of Earth and the universe, looking back on the world as if meditating in space. Crosby can feel the love coming from a couple separated by both sides of the planet but also feels all that ice between them and mournfully ponders 'why must we be eternally alone?' There's a slightly critical tone though, as 'Science, God and you all agree that this isn't how it's meant to be'. Crosby may well be seeing human romantic love as a metaphor for how humanity has treated their planet here, urging mankind to find a 'common ground' and make the world better. However this song is less right-on than other CSN ecological songs and seems afraid than man is never going to get it together than impatiently ticking down the clock until he sees sense and puts things right - there's none of the anger of 'Barrel Of Pain' or 'After The Dolphin' for instance, more the quiet tears of 'Wind On The Water'. A more memorable melody would have made for greater impact, but this is another strong, thoughtful song.

'Drive Out To The Desert' is the most immediate song on the album: it oozes warmth and contentment as Crosby simply wallows in being part of the universe, of being alive. The melody doesn't flow so much as roll, delighting in taking it's time to appreciate each and every chord and note. After such a busy, difficult , complex life it's great to hear Croz trying not to mourn a lost girlfriend or disable a Government or try and tell us life lessons he learnt the hard way but simply to be - to exist rather than teach or think. If you're of the meditating frame of mind (personally I hate 'emptying' my mind - I don't know what to do with it without music in it) then this is the Crosby track you've always dreamed of. However even for a meditative song this one moves slowly. The song doesn't really have anywhere to go - not that that's a problem when you can stand still as well as Crosby - and that means this song doesn't have the impact of some others, drifting on past your ears without really grabbing you in even if the sheer warmth of this track makes it the one that 'crystallises' in your memory first. Sometimes, like the song says, it's probably better to observe rather than over-think and this is one of those songs (hope there aren't too many like that or it would put me out of business!)

'Look In Their Eyes' is close to being another Crosby masterpiece. A heartfelt song about the refugee 'Jungle' camps seen on the news and the squalid conditions suffered simply because people can't do the decent thing and offer help to fellow humans in pain, it's an obvious CSN style song about an obvious CSN subject. What's missing from the past is the anger: 'They don't mean a thing to you, but if you take a step backwards it's your story too!' is exactly the sort of line a 1969-era Crosby would have spitted with venom, usually while being changed round the mix by a Stills-Young guitar at full steam. Even this song, the album's most rebellious outward looking and critical moment, is a quiet revolution for once, treated with bliss and harmony rather than burning injustice and anger. To be honest, it's quite hard to click into such a different style Crosby song and it seems a little odd too that such an ugly subject matter gets such a pretty singalong riff to go with it. This sounds more like a Phil Collins track than a typical Crosby song, a tutted response that still has hope that things can be put right before anyone gets hurt (it makes more sense when you realise what close friends the two musicians are). The melody is perhaps a little too happy-go-lucky for its own good though, drifting along like much of this album rather than pointing the finger a song like this needs to. The closing chant of 'look in their eyes what do you find?' ought to come with the sting of a 'What Are Their Names?', especially when the rest of the song drops away to leave just a mass chanted chorus of voices standing up for their rights. Instead it 'just' sounds quite pretty. And a song with Crosby tackling an awkward subject that no one else is brave enough to touch feels like it should be more than just pretty. Still, this is another strong song lesser songwriters aren't brave enough to touch.

The hardest song on the album to like is 'Somebody Other Than You'. Maybe that's deliberate - it's about the differences between people when really we're so similar and the walls built between those who don't want to imagine the people beneath them are real people with real feelings (though 'walls' aren't mentioned by name this is still the most Stills like song on the album!) The opening verse appears to be about an un-named official ('The worst of the lot, you are!) or maybe the whole bunch of them. As on 'They Want It All' Crosby wonders why the people in power are the ones least likely to understand the meaning of fairness and kindness. This class of people always leave the dirty jobs to somebody under them - 'somebody's brother' 'mother', anyone, without realising that these people have a life and a family too. A snarling atonal lurch into jazz is ear-catching in all the wrong ways - the one moment of tension across this whole album - and the higher pitch and manic grin doesn't really suit Crosby. A second verse has Crosby declare himself through, tired of watching people getting 'fat' through inheritance. A cascade of delicious chords roll away from the harshness at the centre of the song, as the melody plays cat and mouse throughout. The closest to the 'old' Crosby lyrically, sadly these lyrics aren't up to his very best and it quickly becomes a 'list' song.

'The City' is rather an oddball too. A funkier acoustic song than most on the album, it's based around a nifty little riff quite unlike anything else in the Crosby catalogue (and sounds more Like Michael League's work) and sounds like a bright energetic spark. That's suitable for a lyric about a girl whose a real livewire with a heart of gold, one 'not upset to step on people like me' and who was a 'beauty by day but a danger at night'. My guess is that the person Crosby sees as a 'child on the movie screen' is really actress Drew Barrymore. Croz has never really talked about his time as an unofficial guardian to the actress, who stayed with him for several months at the age of fourteen as a halfway house between the clinics she hated and the family home she hated even more. Crosby didn't know Drew personally but he knew her actor father John through his own family ties to the Hollywood industry (Croz's father was award winning cinematographer Floyd) and he no doubt identified with trying to live up to a successful family name. This was in 1989 when Croz had been out of prison for three years and was keen to repay karma for helping him get his life back on track by reaching out to fellow sufferers. David and Jan offered the actress a stable home for the first time in her young life, wasn't trying to make money out of her (unlike everyone else she knew) and could relate to her dependencies and relapses. Crosby certainly sounds like the father figure she needed, telling reporters outside her first day at an AA clinic (as opposed to an AAA clinic where they treat dependency on lengthy music reviews!): 'It's kind of like your baby walking off into traffic - but I think she's going to make it!' 'The City' shares that same sentiments - theirs livewire is trying to throw everyone off the scent the way many addicts do, give into self-destruction and the need not to feel the pain of living anymore. Crosby sighs as she 'puts them to the test' (he wasn't used to being a 'parent' at the time - he didn't even know James had been born and Django arrived in 1999). So this song is less about Drew Barrymore the star and more about an anxious first-time parent who can't tell off a girl he barely knows because he's done the same and worse and feels the same tug that 'somehow got a hold on me'. All Crosby can do is show by example how not to do things, praise her when she does well and be understanding when the 'wind' blows - 'all you can do is your best to stay in' he sighs, cutting off the parties and drunken friends he used to know so well himself. Crosby knows that it's an inevitable fight in many respects ('she can't lose - and you can't win!') and that she was always going to play by 'her own rules', but equally he does what he can and urges everyone in the same situation to do the same. After a final whirlwind flurry of acoustic chords, he closes the song with a blissful extended coda that's one of the prettiest moments on the album and the motto that runs all the way through. 'Leave the light on' he urges us, asking us to be kind to those going through pain and comfort and without the stability they need in life. 'Leave it on all night long'.

'Paint You A Picture' is the most CPR-ish track on the album. Crosby stills feels haunted by loss and people he wasn't very good to - I'm willing to bet this song is the latest in a long line about girlfriend Christine Hinton in a car crash in 1970. Winter's moving in and it reminds him of past times when he lost her. 'I thought we'd be together but I thought wrong' he sighs, 'too much heavy weather for much too long'. There's so much she missed that he wants to tell her about though - the way California looks now in the Winter, his continued sobriety and his happiness in an old age she never got the chance to see. Crosby still admits that, even after all this time, 'I'm still aching for a taste of your mouth'. Then again, maybe this song's for Joni, poorly and at one point housebound in her house and unable to experience the weather outside herself. Joni always used nature a lot in her songs exactly like this and this sad, mournful song has the feel of 'River' about it, Joni's career-best song where she bids goodbye to Nash while gazing across a frozen lake and kicking herself for letting him out of her sight - or maybe 'Urge For Going', a song about the changing seasons where 'winter is closing in' ust like here which Crosby-Nash recorded but abandoned in 1971 (it made it out on the 1990 CSN box set). The imagery of this whole album is very Mitchell-inspired but especially this song which could easily be one of her own as nature carries on oblivious to human emotion and discovery going on around it. Perhaps Croz is trying to tell her what happened to her old boyfriend Nash too, with similar imagery of loss and mourning. Or maybe it's written for Susan Nash, a close friend of Crosby's, in a 'Hey Jude' like show of solidarity that love hurts but times change (McCartney wrote it for Cynthia Lennon after John moved in with Yoko). Whatever the inspiration, it's a pretty song but as it's mainly descriptive without any meaning given in the song it's not quite as involved or as emotional as the similar sounding CPR songs about loss, memory and weather.

'What Makes It So?' is the latest in a long line of Crosby songs that date back almost to the first - the 'how the hell did the world get so messed up and how are we meant to cope?' song that first reared its head as early as 'What's Happening?!?!?' on Byrds 1966 album 'Fifth Dimension'. However it's not just a song about what but about who, with Crosby again turning his wrath on the people who dictate how we live our capitalist lives ('How can there be only one way?' he wonders). The world is infinite, full of wonder and new things to experience, so why do humans limit themselves is the main theme. Crosby is clearly inspired by his and Nash's trips to the Wall Street protests when they were pretty much the only two 'celebrities' brave enough to come out and stand with the anti-banker demonstrators. However this song too feels a little muted, as if Croz has taken all that grief and confusion and pain and written a peaceful song about it instead of his usual rocking protests. The track works in a Martin Luther King turn-the-other-cheek kind of a way and Crosby's vocal is one of his best on the album, direct and passionate but cool. But this is one of those songs on the album that feels like a demo for something to be added later and calls out for a Stills burst of anger or a snide Young solo instead of the rather hammy organ and clichéd blues riff that plays in bursts every so often. The humming harmonies are rather poor for a CSN-linked record too.

The album ends on 'By The Light Of The Common Day'. Musically it's another rather forgettable song with not much happening and Crosby speak-singing a lyric that was obviously written before music was added. Croz sings alongside jazz singer Becca Stevens and while her vocals are strong too, their voices really jar - they have the wrong timbre somehow and sound as if they're working against rather than together; this is also amongst Croz's most personal songs and it shame it ends up coming out like identi-kit Norah Jones. However lyrically it's much better. Back in 1969 'Long Time Gone' came with one of the best middle eights ev-uh as the singer told us 'the darkest hour is always just before the dawn'. This song is a whole extension of that fact: that things will always seem easier when bad times are past and that day always follows night. Crosby knows from hard experience how tough life can be, but he's lived long enough to get his 'reward' for taking better care of himself - stability he never experienced in his younger days. 'I was wrong of course I see now' he tells us about his wilder younger days when drugs got in the way of his creativity for years. Unlike the narrator of 'Shadow Captain' and 'Delta' who felt lost and steered in directions not of his own doing, now Crosby feels firmly in control. The really great news is that the music he used to have to work so hard to hear is now 'knocking at my door trying to get in' - Crosby has so many ideas he can't keep up with them! The song ends with Crosby, formerly one of the most rebellious rule-breaking form-changing musicians who ever lived, telling us that we'll survive if we have faith in 'some lifting force of light' that will 'raise its voice and then raise yours'. The muse seems to be strong with Crosby these days (there's a sequel to this album due out very soon!) and it's a delight to hear him saluting it in song in a manner more usual for Stills or Young. It's just a shame that a song about the healing powers of inspiration and giving yourself so fully over to it comes over sounding like one of Crosby's more generic songs until you get to know this song properly and let it breathe.

That's probably true of the whole album actually. Fittingly 'Lighthouse' gets stronger every time you play it and get 'nearer' to its source and peel back the occasional period production, gratuitous extras and the occasional forgettable melody. This is a work that often reads better than it sounds with the lyrics strong throughout but the music not always matching it for inspiration. In many ways this is also Crosby's simplest CD, certainly outside his covers project 'Thousand Roads' - the record can be summed up by a man lying on his back in the desert looking up at the stars, with memories flitting past his eyes, old music flittering past his ears (many of these songs sound familiar in a way no Crosby set ever has before) and thoughts whistling through his head. There's nothing deep going on here, no attempt to really address guilt about the past or fear of the future as Croz usually does so well and there's no major attacks on the people who deserve it this time around, just a gentle 'oi!' at best. If groundbreaking Crosby is what you want then there are other albums that perform this function a lot better. But no matter, that isn't what this album is about: this is a man at last happy with his present, content to live in the moment and simply be. At times it's as pretty as any album in the CSN catalogue. At other times it's as clever, with some interesting subject matter handled with aplomb. What it doesn't have is the passion and fire of the Crosby of old, the very things that Nash left his life behind for in the search for something new to inspire him. Crosby, though, is content to get his inspiration from the things and people that are loyal and faithful and true to him and that he knows he can trust completely. Though Nash couldn't handle the quiet and still, it's helped Crosby re-discover his voice and while this isn't always a great album it's a good one - the best in some time.

A Now Complete List Of CSN/Y and Solo Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Crosby, Stills and Nash' (1969)

'Deja Vu' (CSNY) (1970)

‘Stephen Stills’ (1970)

'If Only I Could Remember My Name' (Crosby) (1971)

'Songs For Beginners' (Nash) (1971)

'Stephen Stills II' (1971)
‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984)
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986)
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001)

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016)

‘Here If You Listen’ (Crosby)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)
Essay: The Superest Of Super Groups?
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

A Short AAA Guide To Ronnie Wood and Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings

You can now buy 'Yesterday's Papers - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Rolling Stones' in e-book form by clicking here!

As so often happens in these books, we've got a lot of stories going on at once here, so what we've elected to do is tell you about two of them in brief. Ronnie Wood's recorded more solo albums than any other Stones member to date, many of them before he was officially a band member and to be honest if we'd included them all in full on our main text it would be the opposite of 'not seeing the Wood for the trees' - he'd have probably taken over! Bill's work with the Rhythm Kings too is from a whole different bag to the band's sound (although you could argue there are more similarities with what the Stones were when they started than anything the band themselves were doing in the 90s and 00s), so we've included it here, though Bill's earlier poppier works when he was still a member (and which still sound vaguely like rock and roll, if you squint your ears very very much) is in the main part of the book. Just to keep you on your toes more than anything else. Neither career quite fits the general feel of the Stones' main work so think of this section as an aperitif if you want to know more but got fed up of reading Stones solo albums hundreds of pages ago and can't take another (my sympathies - I had to write them!) Before we start, though, it's worth pointing out that if you do want a sneak preview of what the two acts are like then your best bet is with a couple of good compilations that include a good two-thirds of all the stuff you need (better odds than most Stones comps as it happens). 'The Ronnie Wood Anthology: The Essential Crossexion' (2006) is an entertaining little two disc set most useful for the 'bonus' disc including Ronnie's charming early work with The Birds and The Jeff Beck Group as well as, oddly, Ronnie strumming a guitar more or less inaudibly behind some Rod Stewart solo hits and two of the rarest Stones tracks Ronnie played on: 'Black Limousine' and 'Everything Is Turning To Gold'. As for Bill, his two disc set 'A Stone Alone' is another excellent two disc set divided into the cream of his solo work and a good half of the best stuff from the 'Rhythm Kings' sets.


1) I've Got My Own Album To Do (Warner Brothers, September 1974)
I Can Feel The Fire/Far East Man/Mystifies Me/Take A Look At That Guy/Act Together/Am I Grooving You?//Shirley/Cancel Everything/Sure The One You Need/If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody/Crotch Music By 1974 The Faces was on hiatus and Ronnie wasn't yet a full-time Stone. His response was to gather a collection of friends old and new to make an album that was a rather pointed barb at former lead singer Rod Stewart, who never seemed to be around when The Faces had an album ready to roll. Style-wise it's a Faces album that never got made, with the same bonhomie and joyful wasted-ness of that band. Though Wood lacks both the vocals of Stewart and the depth of Lane to make it quite as successful as the early Faces albums at least, this is still a likeable record and probably Ronnie's best with many of his better songs. Future collaborators Mick 'n' Keef turn up to help on the album, although perhaps symbolically on separate tracks: Mick adds some gritty backing vocals to 'I Can Feel The Fire' while Keef plays guitar on most of the songs, with Mick Taylor also playing guitar on a couple of songs. Old Faces partners Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones also guest, while George Harrison co-writes the track 'Far East Man' (which first appeared on George's 'Dark Horse' album), making this one of the few albums to feature contributions by both Beatles and Stones. Three tracks to download: The slow ballad 'Mystifies Me' is the Ronnie Wood equivalent of 'Wild Horses', a heartfelt yearning ballad. 'Act Together' is a leftover Mick 'n' Keef song from the 'Only Rock and Roll' sessions, 'swapped' with Ronnie Wood in order to use the title track on a Stones LP. Ronnie might have got less sales but he got by far the better song, a smoky ballad that beats almost everything on the parent Stones album. 'Sure The One You Need' is a second, more Stonesy collaboration that isn't quite as good but has a nice Chuck Berry-ish shuffle and some Richards vocals. Adjective: Happy

2) Now Look (Warner Brothers, July 1975)
I Got Lost When I Found You/Big Bayou/Breathe On You/If You Don't Want My Love/I Can Say She's Alright//Caribbean Boogie/Now Look/Sweet baby Mine/I Can't Stand The Rain/It's Unholy/I Got A Feeling A second album recorded at around the time Ronnie joined the Stones features less guests and more Ronnie, which is a good thing in terms of the guitar playing where Wood has never had so much space to stretch out and be himself with some excellent licks, but rather bad in terms of the vocals which sound gruffer and looser without the cushion of the various harmonies. There's a slower, sadder feel about this album, possibly influenced by the disintegration of The Faces, a band Ronnie truly loved (by contrast it sounds as if he got bored of the Stones as early as 'Emotional Rescue'). The vocals might not have been a problem had they been in healthier sounding surroundings, but alas the other problem with this album is that it's all so slick it loses all feel of emotion except for a couple of excellent exceptions. Worth buying if you liked the first record, though to be honest the debut was probably enough for me. Three tracks to download: 'Breathe On Me' is a sweet Ronnie Lane style ballad about humility with lashings of slide guitar which seems pointed to his old band: 'Does it have to happen like this?' The unusual Bobby Womack/Phil Spector collaboration 'If You Don't Want My Love (Give It Back)' is one of the more listenable mid-70s funk songs - better than anything similar on 'Black and Blue' in any case. 'I Can't Stand The Rain' is the most emotional you'll ever hear from Ronnie, a cover song about tragedy that's sung with real pathos. To be honest, the rest of the album could have done with more odf the same. Adjective: Sad

3) Mahoney's Last Stand (With Ronnie Lane) (Atlantic, September 1976)
Tonight's Number/From The Late To The Early/Chicken Wire/Chicken Wired/I'll Fly Away/Title One/Just For A Moment/Mona' The Blues/Car Radio/Hay Tumble/Woody's Thing/Rooster's Funeral/Just For A Moment Back in 1972 and the heyday of The Faces the band were asked to provide a film soundtrack. Only the band's two Ronnies accepted, the soundtrack effectively being Lane's last work with a member of his former band. The cowboy film Mahoney's Last Stand didn't do that well, but it had a big impact on lane in particular, who took its plot about a man leaving a hectic (though never specified) lifestyle behind to take up a more rugged but honest life in the country, something Lane would do for real soon. Wood is really here to help a friend out, although he does play some lovely guitar which is amongst his most expressive. Most of the songs are instrumentals and not very long ones at that, although the two Ronnies sound surprisingly good together when they do sing in harmony. The album soundtrack was eventually released a full four years after the film had died a hurried death to capitalise on both the bigger success of The Faces and Ronnie Wood's new assignment in The Rolling Stones. Three tracks to download: 'Chicken Wired' is a very Faces song, a revved up blues that would have sounded good in the hands of Rod 'The Mod' Stewart. Mind you the two Ronnies' shared harmonies sound pretty lovely too with lots of down-home country twang. 'Just For A Moment' is the Faces equivalent of 'No Expectations', a sleepy slide guitar ballad full of some lovely chord changes.  The closing 'Just For A Moment' is a great 'lost' Ronnie Lane song full of his usual mixture of pathos and hope. Adjective: Rustic

4) Gimme Some Neck! (Columbia, April 1979)
Worry No0 More/Breaking My Heart/Delia/Buried Alive/Come To Realise/Infekshun/Seven Days/We All Get Old/F U C Her/Lost and Lonely/Don't Worry By 1979 Ronnie is properly established as a Rolling Stone. For the most part Ronnie loves it: the fame, the attention and the music are exactly what he'd been searching for across his time with The Birds and The Faces. However one thing spells trouble: the perennial Jagger/Richards refusal to allow other band members credit on songs - even when the songs are someone else's idea. Frustrated, Ronnie keeps a load of his latest batch of music to himself for his own album, alongside some specially chosen cover versions. Though there are less guest stars than the first album it features many old Stones including his predecessor Mick Taylor - something Wood may have regretted given how much Taylor trumps him here. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts also guest. Oddly, though, this album sounds less like a Stones rip-off than a precursor for Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings with a similar big band R and B feel with very little rock about it at all. Most of the songs come with same mid-paced tempo, in fact (think 'She's So Cold') which gets a bit irritating by the end. Not as good as the earlier records, though some brighter points (including the clever title!) put it at least on the level of 'Emotional Rescue'. This album is still Ronnie's best-seller to date, no doubt helped by the publicity of his time with the Stones. Three tracks to download: Bob Dylan cover 'Delia' is one of the few on this album to come with real muscle. 'We All Got Old' has by far the best lyric on the album, a reflection on time passing and the importance of love and family - and possibly a barb at his new band for not doing more to keep him happy? 'F U C Her' (a double pun on 'If you see her' and the 'f' word) has a nice punkish quality to it too, although it's not exactly 'Some Girls' quality. Adjective: Horny (both meanings)

5) 1 2 3 4 (Columbia, September 1981)
1234/Fountains Of Love/Outlaws/Redeyes/Wind Howlin' Through/Priceless/She Was Out There/Down To The Ground/She Never Told Me The sequel came comparatively quickly coinciding with the period of lethargy that was outtakes-set-dressed-as-surprisingly-tasty-lamb 'Tatoo You'. There are less Stones appearances now, with just Charlie taking part from the main line-up, although many 'surrogate Stones' are here including Nicky Hopkins and Bobby Keyes. The result is still probably Ronnie's most Stonesy album, heavy on the Chuck Berry and good time boogie, mixed with more big band jazz/blues. It might well have been Ronnie's best album were it not for it for the fact that his voice is completely shot on this one, his usual nasal falsetto getting more and more raspy with age and a cocktail of booze and drugs, in stark contrast to Keith's who just gets deeper in this same period for much the same reasons. Sadly that makes this album the hardest Stones LP to listen to since 'Jammig With Edward'. If Ronnie ever releases an instrumental mix of it, though, I'll be first in the queue. By the way, this record also wins the not-that-prestigious 'weirdest Stones front cover' award, with a shot of a wasted looking Ronnie on a camel in an Indian wig in front of the 'Hollywood' sign while a lear jet flies past. No, me neither. It also comes second to 'Rolling Stones no 2' in the 'weirdest sleeve notes' category with Andy Johns' plea that everyone seeing this message buy the album because the record label really needs the money. Given the fact that Ronnie is at last on a big name label (his first as a solo act) this must surely be a joke, unless the guitarist knew something about Columbia's finances we didn't?...  Three tracks to download: 'Fountain Of Love' has that very early 80s post-disco, pre-new wave feel that suits Ronnie's style of writing, if not his voice. In a parallel universe 'Wind Runnin' Through', which recycles the usual Stones riff heard since 'Satisfaction' would be a stunning high octane rocker because the song is certainly there - just not the performance. 'Down To The Ground' finally features some passion as Ronnie laments life knocking him about again. Adjective: Off-key (again, both meanings)

6) Live At The Ritz (With Bo Diddley) (Victor Records, April 1988)
Road Runner/I'm A Man/Crackin' Up/Hey Bo Diddley!/Plynth (Water Down The Drain)/Ooh La La/Outlaws/Honkly Tonk Women/Money To Ronnie/Who Do You Love? Mick seems like a more likely pairing with one of the early 1960s' greatest R and B practitioners, but Ronnie was influenced by Ellas McDaniel (Bo's real name) too and clearly knows the man's songs well. Ronnie is a fine guitarist who works better solo than in the Stones art of guitar weaving so it's no surprise that the guitarwork is the best thing about this album as Ronnie turns the clock back some thirty years. Bo Diddley sounds a little strained, without his usual confidence and sounds particular at sea during Wood's moments in the middle of the set including a nobly wrong version of 'Honky Tonk Woman', a Stones track Ronnie didn't even play on (if the pair are going back to the past then 'Not Fade Away' or 'Little Red Rooster' would have been a more fitting pair of tracks to cover - or how about 'Down In The Hole', a bluesy song Ronnie did appear on?) As you'd expect from an album with 'Ritz' in the title (with this set recorded in the grounds of the New York Hotel) the set is big on sparkles and glamour and sudden flashes of virtuosity, but somehow there isn't the emotional connection with the pair and each other or with their audience and too many of these songs drift into noodling jams. A bit of a waste of two talents, to be honest. Three tracks to download: A fierce 'Bo Diddley!', the one moment in the set when the pair sound like their younger selves. A pity it fades on the album though (did they mess up the ending?) There's a respectable version of The Faces' 'Ooh La La', not often played by Ronnie since leaving the band and in fact not often played live at all given that The Faces broke up soon after recording it. Silly and superfluous as it is, Bo's seemingly made up on the spot tribute 'Money To Ronnie' is, erm, funny with Diddley paying sarcastic tribute to his partner ('I asked her where's my money and she said see Ronnie and he just laughed, meanwhile he's driving round in a Cadillac he bought brand new...')  Adjective: Sparkly

7) Slide On This! (Continuum Records, September 1992)
Somebody Else Might/Testify/Ain't Rock and Roll/Jospehine/Knock Yer Teeth Out/Ragtime Annie/Must Be Love/Fear For Your Future/Show Me/Always Wanted More/Thinkin'/Like It/Breathe On Me Ronnie's big return was released in the long wait between 'Steel Wheels' and 'Voodoo Lounge' and you could have forgiven Ronnie for taking his bandmates' lethargy as a good launching pad for his own socking-it-to-ya! solo album. Instead this is Ronnie at his most muted, from the near plain black cover of his face shot in the dark to the largely guilty batch of songs full of regrets and worries. Of course, this being a Ronnie Wood album, this is the sort of record that has a party while it's doing it, but it's on that teetering edge of drunk where it's just in the switchover comedown between happy and sad. It's also Ronnie's most adventurous record, with more R and B and ballads within the rock and a fierce country hoe-down instrumental on 'Ragtime Annie' that may well have been in tribute to Ronnie Lane's similar style, the former Face having passed away from M.S. in 1991. This album's special guests include Charlie once again and 'honorary' Stone and pianist Chuck Leavell who also co-writes many of the songs with Ronnie. An improvement of sorts, with Ronnie's vocals in better shape, though it still doesn't match the 1970s pair of albums. The best thing about this album may well be the packaging, which in contrast to the front cover features some bright and cheerful and rather good portraits of Ronnie's nearest and dearest including some priceless drawings of his fellow Stones (a glum looking Charlie being best). Three tracks to download: The Jagger-swagger style 'Josephine' really stands out on an album usually much quieter than this, while the 'you make me moan, you make me scream' sounds suspiciously close to what became 'You Got Me Rocking' on 'Voodoo Lounge' two years later. Ronnie, of course, didn't get a credit on that one. 'Fear For Your Future' uses the old 'Between The Buttons' trick of saying something while diverting our ear by sounding like something else. A tearful heartstring-tugging ballad about saying goodbye, it's given the most contemporary dance makeover on the album. 'Always Wanted More' is a self-deprecating song about wanting too much and things never being perfect enough tied up to a love song to wife Jo that's amongst Ronnie's most moving and mature. 'You been flying too high, you got shot from the sky' sighs Ronnie before adding what's surely another dig at his band with the line about 'Milking blood from a 'stone'. Adjective: Moody

8) Slide On Live - Plugged In and Standing (Continuum Records, September 1993)
Testify/Josephine/Pretty Beat Up/Am I Grooving You?/Flying/Breathe On Me/Silicone Grown/Seven Days/Show Me/Show Me (Groove Reprise)/I Can Feel The Fire/Slide Instr/Stay With Me Ronnie wittily puts down his old partner Rod Stewart's best selling album 'Unplugged - and Seated!' with his title riposte. That's about the best thing to say about this record, sadly, which seems to exist mainly so Ronnie can use that name. Recorded during the short tour to promote the 'Slide On This Album', it features lots of tracks from that albums with a couple of oddities including the obscure Stones song 'Pretty Beat Up' (almost the only Stones song with a Ronnie co-credit) and some rarer than usual choices from the Faces catalogue. It's not bad and Ronnie's voice is in better shape than his last two songs, but none of the arrangements are all that different to the studio ones and you can't really hear the audience, so you might as well own the originals. The one new 'song', 'Slide Instrumental', is about as generic as it sounds (even though it's not strictly an instrumental, with a brief chorus about wanting to go home), while the song's worst cover 'Show Me' gets pointlessly extended via a reprise/false ending that's as long as the whole thing. You had to be there for this one, I think. Three tracks to download: It perhaps doesn't say much that the lacklustre Stones song 'Pretty Beat Up' is the best thing here, but then Ronnie has altered it the most, turning it into a slow blues jam that may have been closer to his original concept before Jagger went all 'disco'. 'Am I Grooving You?' sounds rather good with The Faces' Ian McLagan adding some soulful keyboard work and some lovely harmonies on the chorus. The closest thing to a hit played all night is 'Stay With Me' which turns into a nice singalong with the band on sparking form.  Adjective: Live and Moody

9) Live and Eclectic (Pilot Records, April 2000)
Show Me/Flying/Testify/Pretty Beat Up/Always Wanted More/Breathe On Me/Silicone Grown/Black Limousine/Little Red Rooster/Stay With Me/Josephine/I'm Losing You/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll//Flying/Silicone Grown/Stay With Me/Somebody Else Might/I Can Feel The Fire Recorded on the same tour as 'Slide On Live' but left in the vaults for another seven years, this is actually a much better set with the band sharper and Ronnie sounding more involved. It may well be the best of all his solo releases in fact, with a tightness and power few of his other recordings manage in such bulk. I'm not sure the 'eclectic' part of the title quite works - this is the usual mix of rockers, with a few little extras thrown in like the Stones' bluesy 'Black Limousine' and 'Little Red Rooster' as well as a re-claiming of 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll'. The 'live' part sounds about right though, with this set fair crackling with energy throughout. All editions came with a 'bonus' disc featuring three songs taken from a different date on the tour and two others added later to the set lists, though none are amazingly different or impressive enough to stand out much. Three tracks to download: The Faces' 'Flying' sounds fabulous, with Ronnie doing some soul singing as the song builds and builds to an epic climax. 'Breathe On Me' from 'Slide' sounds particularly good tonight, with a finger-picking guitar a neat accompaniment to Ronnie's next-morning worries. Somewhere out there Brian Jones' ghost is grooving to 'Little Red Rooster', one of the most authentic blues performances by a Stone since he was in the band.  Adjective: Live and Eclectic and Moody

10) Not For Beginners (SPV, November 2001)
Wayside/So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star?/Whaddya Think?/This Little Heart/Living Here/Hypershine/R U Behaving Yourself?/Be beautiful/Wake Up You Beauty/Intefere/Real Hard Rocker/Heart Soul and Body/King Of Kings Ronnie returns to the format of his first record, with some straight-ahead pub rock and lots of guest stars, though of a more modern variety (including The Stereophonics' Kelly Jones, Bob Dylan and Ian McLagan once again). The unusual cover of the unusual Byrds song 'So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?' rather sets the tone - is Ronnie laughing at us for buying this stuff? Or laughing at the rock industry the way only an insider can? The good news is there's a bit more experimentation going on here than normal - the bad is that the experiments don't always work, with some really peculiar ideas such as a slowed down cover of Motown classic 'Leaving Here' (whose best element is the sheer power of the attack) and 'Real Hard Rocker', which is the bluesiest and one of the slowest things on the album, Ronnie turning his voice into an earth-shaking low note of doom. In fact Ronnie sounds suddenly much deeper all round, his voice having 'matured' into a gravelly roar that's not unlike Keith's of recent years. It's just a shame he doesn't have better material to do things with it, with this album lacking the depth of his most recent work. Definitely not for beginners, though it's not the worst Ronnie Wood album either. Three tracks to download: 'Whaddya Think?' is one of Ronnie's all-time strongest tracks, a slow folky harmony ballad Ronnie Lane would have loved with Jones' strident lead going well with Ronnie's now growly harmonies. 'Hypershine' fills the usual Stones archetypal ballads slot with aplomb. 'Heart Soul and Body' sounds like a long lost Faces outtake with a slide guitar riff to die for and some puffing folk harmonica.  Adjective: Raucous

11) The First Barbarians (Wooden Records, October 2007)
Intro/Am I Grooving You?/Cancel Everything/Mystifies Me/Take A Look At The Guy/Act Together/Shirley/Forever/Sure The One You Need/Can't Stand The Rain/Crotch Music/I Can Feel The Fire Or 'I've Got My Own Concert To Do'. Taped back in 1974 as part of the two-concert appearance plugging 'I've Got My Own Album To Do', this is a fascinating historical package for a band named in honour of The New Barbarians, the nickname Ronnie gave op his 1979 touring band. The show included cameo spots for Rod Stewart and Keith Richards, who steals the show on a delightfully ragged 'Sure The One You Need', with Ronnie all but drowned out at times. It's not really an essential album with the band so raw in a Faces kind of way that you wonder whether they wasted anytime on rehearsal or deciding what the set was before they played and almost every song feels in danger of turning into a formless jam. It is, however, good to hear Keith playing back-up to Ronnie for once and to hear Wood right on the boundaries between being a part of two great bands who both collide here (Keith's left the stage by the time Rod comes on though, sadly, so we don't a bigger Stoney Faces supergroup). Worth buying if you loved the first album - I'd give it a miss if you didn't. A DVD also came with the set, although it's just as scrappy as the CD, seemingly taped more for personal record than mainstream release. Three tracks to download: 'Mystifies Me' works well as the first 'slowie' in the set with some more lovely McLagan organ. 'Act Together' needs to have the band play more together, but it's exciting in a will-they-get-to-the-end? type way as Ronnie pleads 'let's get our shit together!' Against all odds, the band makes it. Willie Weeks' funky bass brightens up 'I can't Stand The Rain' no end, with a much longer opening than what ended up on record. Adjective: Barbaric and Raucous

12) I Feel Like Playing (Eagle Rock, September 2010)
Why You Gonna Go And Do A Thing Like That For?/Sweetness My Weakness/Lucky Man/I Gotta See/Thing About You/Catch You/Spoonful/I Don't Think So/100%/Fancy Pants/Tell Me Something/Forever. CD Bonus Tracks: early session mixes of 'I Don't Think So' and 'Tell Me Something' Ronnie might feel like playing, but I'm not sure that I feel like paying. No, sorry, that's not actually true I just wanted to use the line - this is a sweet and consistent album, up there with 'Slide On This' as the most moving and deep of Ronnie's career. By 2010 Ronnie's autobiography has caused so many upheavals in his life (not least his quotes on his band members, especially poor Mick Taylor and the breakup of his marriage to Jo Wood) and his drug taking has led to so many binges-rehab cycles that the world has become a distinctly darker and more serious place. This set could just as well have been subtitled '...because I sure don't feel like partying anymore' with Ronnie rather down in the dumps. For the first time since the Bo Diddley album there are no Stones appearances, although regular backing singer/Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin stands out on backing vocals  and there are cameos by The red Hot Chilli Peppers, Bobby Womack, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, blues legend Willie Dixon who was weathered even when the Stones were covering his songs in the 1960s (who'd have guessed he'd have outlived Brian Jones by so many decades?) and Bill's bass replacement Darryl Jones. Impressive stuff almost back to the level of the early years. Three tracks to download: 'I've got up from the darkest road - but it's so hard to get the devil off your clothes!' snarls Ronnie on a career best couplet as he laughs at himself for being a 'Lucky Man' and not realising it. An unusual song for the usually straightforward Woody but a good one. The aggressive 'I Don't Think So' which puts a jagged guitar riff to good use. Finally, the poppy blues 'Tell Me Something' which both longs for and is afraid for the 'truth' from a loved one. Adjective: Dark and Brooding


1) Struttin' Our Stuff (BMG, October 1997)
Green River/Walking On My Own/Melody/Stuff (Can't Get Enough)/Bad To Be Alone/I'm Mad/Down In The Bottom/Motervatin' Momma/Jitterbug Baby/Goin' Crazy Overnight/Hole In My Soul/Tobacco Road This is, you suspect, the sort of thing the Rolling Stones would have gone on to make in middle age had Brian stayed the 'star' and Mick and Keef not discovered a talent for writing. Bill had himself dropped out of music by the mid-1990s, hanging up his instrument for 'two years' or so after leaving the Stones while the busy bassist got married (again), wrote one book and the basis of a second, created the 'Sticky Fingers' rock restaurant and spent lots of time gold-digging. Funnily enough gold-digging is the right way to treat the Rhythm Kings albums which always promise more than they deliver given the talent involved: Bill didn't audition or nag anyone into playing in the first line up, he just went through his phone book inviting people to get together for some informal sessions. Being a Stone his phonebook included the likes of Georgie Fame, Albert Lee, Peter Frampton, Andy Fairweather-Low...virtually a Whose Who of guitarists. Bill had already started playing with close pal Terry Taylor on drums so the Keith and Charlie roles were filled easily enough - however finding someone to 'replace' Jagger was always the band's achilles heel and a problem they never did quite get round. Instead the band went for 'guest' vocals, some of which work - especially on this first and possibly best album which features Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Procul Harum's Gary Brooker and Ten Years After's Albert Lee - and some of which don't. The result is a likeable but slightly anonymous set of groove albums that are more or less interchangeable and despite the billing all suffer from, ironically enough, a lack of 'Bill'. This debut album wins by a nose thanks to possessing the most authentically rockabilly sound - the others defer a little too much to R and B and blues, for my tastes at least. I could have done without the female chorus who add an oddly glossy layer to what works best as a set of funky down-home recordings, but this is the most enthusiastic album we've had from Bill since about 1964. For good reason too for the most part: this is music as joyful informal fun which must have made a nice change after a quarter century of being told what to do as a Rolling Stone. The album also includes Billy Preston revisiting his Stones track 'Melody', although he must have grimaced to have to still credit Jagger-Richards alone for it on the back sleeve. Bill also revisits 'Stuff' in better, more 'human' form than his 1992 recording. Three tracks to download: Opener 'Green River' is one of the better Credence Clearwater Revival songs given a nicely elaborate arrangement and Bill's 'whispering' vocals against the brassy glare of the female chorus works best here. 'Bad To Be Alone', as sung by Beverley Skeete, is an excellent Wyman blues original with real pathos and authenticity. I'm half surprised Charlie didn't quit the Stones too just to play on this track so dear to his own tastes. Georgie Fame's comedy take on 'Hole In My Soul' (best summed up by the punchline 'and what do you know? His shoe fell off!') is also very funny and very in keeping with the humour of Bill's earlier parody albums. Adjective: Grooving

2) Anyway The Wind Blows (BMG, February 1999)
Anyway The Wind Blows/Spooky/Walking One and Only/Mojo Boogie/Too Late/Every Sixty Seconds/Ring My Bell/Days Like This/He's A Real Gone Guy/Trtue Romance/Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You?/When Hollywood Goes Black and Tan/Crazy He Calls Me/Struttin' Our Stuff. CD Re-issue Bonus Tracks: Sugar Babe/Gonna Find Me A New Love Bill's Stones version of the Ringo All-Starrs continues with a second album much like the first, only longer and with a slightly tweaked line-up. In this time as guests are Paul Carrack, Chris Rea and no less than two Mick Taylor making his first return alongside a bandmate in twenty-four years. Georgie Fame has graduated to become the band's chief vocalist by now, with Bill even quieter on this second record. Though much longer are far fewer first-class amongst this line-up with lots of R and B and blues material which, though heartfelt, come in danger of sounding like the pastiche Bill albums of earlier years. Perhaps surprisingly, given that there are now two Stones in the band, there are no Rolling covers this time around, although Bill does revive 'Every Sixty Seconds' from his solo catalogue. Three tracks to download: J J Cale's 'Anyway The Wind Blows' has a nice Dire Straits quality about it. New Bill 'n' Terry original 'Ring My Bell' is rather good, a nice retro rock number about a telephone switchboard and wires getting crossed. Closer 'Gonna Find Me A New Love' with Geoff Grange on vocals and some tasty harmonica playing with a reasonable Stax-style horn riff propelling the song along. Adjective: Moving

3) Groovin' (Roadrunner Records, May 2000)
Tell You A Secret/Groovin'/Rough Cut Diamond/Mood Swing/Hole In The Wall/Can't Get My Rest At Night/I Put A Spell On You/Tomorrow Night/I Want To Be Evil/Rhythm King/Daydream/Oh! Baby/Streamline Woman/Yesterdays Made almost back to back with the second album and with almost an identical cast (with Georgie Fame still lead vocalist and Mick Taylor still lead guitarist), this third album is also identical in terms of quality with a handful of cooking tracks and a few not so hot moments in there too. There are no Stones links on this one though and less Taylor guitar if that helps sway your decision which to get. Three tracks to download: Beverley Skeete's return on Nina Simone's 'I Put A Spell On You' is magnificent. At last The Rhythm Kings cover the song that partly gave them their name: J Russel Robinson's 'Rhythm King' with the band message: 'Strutting down the street with my fellow kings and the world is fine!' 'Streamline Women' features Bill adapting a Muddy Waters song, which is the first time any of the Stones have done one of the songs by the man who named them in years. Adjective: A-Reeling

4) Live In Europe (Ripple Records, '2000')

Let The Good Times Roll/Stagger Lee/Mystery Train/Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu/Hit The Road Jack-Fever/Georgia On My Mind/Land Of 1000 Dances-Tequila!/Lawdy Miss Clawdy/Good Golly Miss Molly/Tear It Up Bill bootlegs himself! Surprised to see how well home tapes of the 1998 Rhythm Kings tour was doing amongst fans, Bill went back to the original tapes for some 'outtakes' from the gigs. Most of them are up to anything the band released on their earlier LPs and feature the original line-up of Gary Brooker and Albert Lee, thoughy not sadly Eric Clapton who didn't make the tour. The sound is a little more big band,m though, with the brass section playing more of a role and there's more jazz swing than rockabilly. Though it looks deliberately like a bootleg, it doesn't sound like one with excellent sound quality throughout. The album didn't sell that well (many fans really did think it was a bootleg, especially as Bill used a smaller label to release it on, and steered clear) but several of the tracks, billed to 'The Bootleg Rhythm Kings', re-appeared on the Wyman anthology 'Stone Alone'. Three tracks to download: Georgie's on the speakers as 'Georgia On My Mind' plays with some nice blues strumming  from Albert Lee (though, as far as I can hear, no Bill at all!) 'Land Of A 1000 Dances' rocks quite nicely - one of the few things here that really does have some urgency to it - and comes complete with a sneaky snatch of 'Tequila!' at the end. 'Tear It Up' sounds so paper-thin it won't tear anything that heavy up at all, but there's some great guitar interplay during the lengthy solo so all is forgiven. Just about.  Adjective: And a Rockin'

5) Double Bill (Ripple Records, '2001')
Long Walk To DC/Hot Foot Blues/Hit That Jive Jack/Love Letters/Love's Down The Drain/I Can't Dance/Snap Your Fingers-What A Friend We Have In Jesus/Get In The Kitchen/Boogie Woogie All Night Long/Do You Or Don't You?-I Wanna Know/Trust In Me/Turn On Your Lovelight//The Joint Is Jumping/Brown Skin Girl/Tired and Sleepy/Lonely Blue Boy/Bye Bye Blues/Where's The Money/Jellyroll Fool/Jealous Girl/My Handyman/Rollin' and Stumblin'/Keep On Truckin'/Breakin' Up The House Well, blimey: twenty-four tracks of Rhythm Kings that seem to be here to justify the rather clever title rather than because this set is full to bursting with big ideas. Released on the smaller 'Ripple' label again as the fuss about the Stones began to die down and sales fell a bit low, the guest spots have been cut down now with Georgie Fame and Beverley Skeete dominating the vocals. There is however a great guest spot from no less a figure than George Harrison who helps his fellow 'quiet one' buddy out with some great Mick Taylor-ish slide on slow blues 'Love Letters' and a few appearances by singer Keely Smith, whose presence understandably brings out even more of a jazz influence across this album (seriously, where is Charlie? The Stones weren't doing anything this year!) The good news is that Bill is back to writing and writing actual pop songs again, with songs closer to the style of his earlier solo work than on any previous Rhythm Kings album. Georgie Fame also gets to do a 'greatest hits' melody as a sort of reward for staying loyal to the band. Three tracks to download: Strangely, despite there being double the usual number of tracks, it's even harder than usual to find three tracks because they all sound so similar and are of such similar quality: lifeless, but not awful. 'Hit That Jive Jack' wins for it's playfulness, 'Trust In Me' features a nice horn part and closer 'Breakin' Up The House' sounds like fun, but there's very little in it.  Adjective: Like A Rolling Stone

6) On The Road Again (Ripple Records, '2003')
Down In The Bottom/SOS/Too Late/Trust In Me/Jump Jive and Wail/Days Like This/He's A Real Gone Guy/Kiddio/Midnight Special/Lights Out/Chantilly Lace. CD Re-Issue Bonus Tracks: Melody/Johnny and Frankie This second 'official' bootleg is actually one of the best Rhythm Kings albums, perhaps after the first one. As with 'Live In Europe' it's rather hard to find and not much to look at, but about a third of the album is included in the Bill retrospective 'Stone Alone'. The band always tended to sound better live than they ever did on album and are on particularly strong form on this 2002 tour with a disciplined group playing on many of their best songs. More than deserves a re-issue although it shares many similarities with the almost-as-good 'Just For A Thrill' released a year later. Andy Fairweather Low joined the group for this album, though Georgie Fame and Gary Brooker both left halfway through the tour to play with their own bands. Billy Preston, once a key part of the Stones touring band, turns up once more to sing his Stones signature song 'Melody' on the bonus tracks added to the second pressings of the album. Three tracks to download: 'SOS' is a delightful Motown song by Edwin Starr that really suits the Rhythm King's laidback groove and everyone sounds like they get something to do from the horn players to the backing singers. 'Midnight Special' is Georgie Fame's great leaving present, a rollicking country-rock-blues that's slower than most versions but has a lovely informal charm. Louis Prima, he of 'I Wanna Be Like You' from the Jungle Book, supplies the oh so Rhythm Kings 'Jump Jive and Wail', with a skiffle band practicing in their back gardens before meeting up to make one heck of a racket on stage! Adjective: A-Wop-Bop-A-Loo-Bop-A-Wop-Bam-Bill

7) Just For A Thrill (Ripple Records, '2004')
Disappearing Nightly/Roll 'Em Pete/Down Home Girl/Mississippi Flyer/That's How Heartaches Are Made/Booty Ooty/Cadillac Woman/This Ain't United Nations/Memphis Woman/Taxman/Just For A Thrill/Crybaby/You Don't Know A compilation made up of the best recordings from the 1998-2001 tour that weren't out yet, 'Just For A Thrill' is surprisingly good for an album made up of odds and ends. With the line-ups of the band coming and going there's not much consistency of sound, but these albums are best heard in small doses anyway and include some excellent moments, such as Mark Knopfler fitting right at home with the band's style (so similar to his own 'Notting Hillbillies' from a decade earlier). The song selection is a bit more adventurous than normal, with more recent classics like The Beatles' Taxman and Eddie Floyd's soulful 'You Don't Know' amongst the track listing, although in truth everything is given the same Rhythm Kings sheen so that nothing really stands out for good or bad. Worth buying if you liked one of the others but not really what you might call essential. Three tracks to download: The Stones covered 'Down Home Girl' for their second album almost forty years earlier. It was always one of their best covers, well suited to Mick's sarcastic vocals and while this more 'straight' version isn't quite as impressive it's still a strong version. 'That's How Heartaches Are Made' is Bill Haley's song, beating 'Rock Around The Clock' by hours, even if Beverley Skeete is not necessarily the right person to be singing it. 'Town Living' is a pretty new Bill Wyman song about wanting to go back to the country that suits his deeper husky tones and the huge volume of talented slide guitarists he had in the band at the time. Adjective: But was it Bill? Or was it a Georgie Fame album with a Rolling Stones bassist?

8) Live (Dixie Frog, '2005')
I Got A Woman/Jump Jive and Wail/Baby Workout/If I Can't Have You/Jitterbug Boogie/Bright Lights Big City/Muleskinner Blues/You Never Can Tell/Taxman/Race With The Devil/I Shall Not Be Moved/Disappearing Nightly/Flatfoot Sam/I Will Be Satisfied/Let's Talk It Over/Wild One/Roll 'Em Pete More non-stop rocking, which is effectively a more modern re-recording of most of the set list released in 'bootleg' form as 'On The Road Again'. There's more of a crowd atmosphere here but for once the band sound stiff and unrehearsed alongside what sounds like their biggest audience yet. There are some good moments still, but for once the crowd seem to have inhibited rather than enhanced the music. To date, it's the last party for the Rhythm Kings, though knowing the way the Stones works anything could happen to the band during the next decade or so... Three tracks to download: There's an even better 'Jumpin' Jivin' and Wailin' taken at an even more manic pace. 'You Never Can Tell' is the only time Bill's band cover a Chuck Berry song, to results that might not match the 1960s but matches period Stones Chuck Berry-ish numbers at least. Against all odds 'I Shall Not Be Moved' comes across as authentic heartfelt protest, most at odds with the usual Rhythm Kings party style. Adjective: Bill! Bill! You're Sounding ill! Where are mother's helping little ole pills? 

That's all for now! We'll be back with more Stones articles than you can throw a stone at next year, after a couple of week's gap catching up with other posts and our AAA review of the year!

A Now Complete List Of Rolling Stones and Related Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'No 2' (1965)

'Out Of Our Heads' (1965)

‘Aftermath’ (1966)

'Between The Buttons' (1967)

'Their Satanic Majesties Request' (1967)

'Beggar's Banquet' (1968)

‘Let It Bleed’ (1969)

'Sticky Fingers' (1971)

'Exile On Main Street'(1972)

'Goat's Head Soup' (1973)

'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' (1974)

'Black and Blue' (1976)

'Some Girls' (1978)

'Emotional Rescue' (1980)

'Undercover' (1983)

'Dirty Work' (1986)

'Steel Wheels' (1989)

‘Voodoo Lounge’ (1994)

'Bridges To Babylon' (1998)

'A Bigger Bang' (2005)

Ronnie Wood and Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings Solo

Rolling Stones: Unreleased Recordings

Surviving TV Clips and Music Videos

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1962-1969

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1970-2014

Live/Solo/Compilations Part One 1963-1974 

Live/Solo/Compilations Part Two 1975-1988