Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Al Stewart Marathon

It has been a busy couple of days. I have been engaged in an Al Stewart marathon, poor Jan is pig sick of listening to him. So far we have made it through 9 of his CD's. Being an AL fan from way back I have found it quite an interesting experience.

Often times when you are a fan of an artist or band you do not see the subtle changes that they undergo during their careers because of the time lag between albums.

I had already decided on the format of the reviews, a three part deal, the Early Years, The Saga's and The Rest. So in order to do that it was necessary to plow through the CD's in chronological order. What a revealing experience. When you listen to 9 CD's almost back to back you can clearly see the 'dry spots' in his career. To use a term from academia, it is "the publish or perish syndrome". The record label wants an album and cajoles the artist into producing, even though they do not have any material.

The best example of this is his album Orange that was the last of the early and Innocent stage. Al's cupboard is bare, and what we have is a series of songs that are almost entirely 'filler', there is almost no "meat and potato's".

The other interesting discovery was how his music changed over time. He gradually moves from guy with a guitar, to guy with a whole orchestra. My theory is that external influences play a significant effect. The increase in backing musicians started when studio producer Alan Parsons came on board.

While we were listening I was also researching, and another conclusion that I came to was that when you compare the music to what was happening in his private life you find some interesting results. Modern Times is at best mediocre and there is a stressful and unhappy feeling about it. At the time Al was fighting with his manager, and was having to deal with an increasingly hostile record label Arista. Yet later the same year he comes out with Russians And Americans, which in my opinion is one of his finest albums. What was the change? Well Arista and his manager were out of the picture.

As I said earlier I had mapped out a rough plan for the three part series, what did surprise me was how neatly it works. This is a musician who is very smart. He runs in one musical direction, and is able to recognize when the material is exhausted and changes his tactics. This is probably the reason that he is still going strong after 40 years in the biz.

Oh, and for any of you that have no idea who he is, he's the guy that did 'Year Of The Cat'.

Well it's back to the pile of CD's for this kid!

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