Monday, September 21, 2009

Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane shine on 'Rough Mix'

A nice byproduct that emerges when a member of an established band works on solo music is that it gives him the opportunity to do songs he ordinarily would not get to do. For Pete Townshend, guitarist and primary songwriter for the Who, the album Rough Mix (released in 1977) gave him the opportunity to do just that. Songs on this album are of a totally different flavor when compared to his better-known work.

With Ronnie Lane, formerly of the Faces, this record comes across as the chance for two successful musicians to step away from the limelight and the responsibilities they carry in their career. What shines through here are two men who love music, and for once, get the chance to make music they like with no concern of expectations. They do not have to worry about writing songs that sound like the Who or the Faces.

This is especially obvious on Townshend's 'Street in the City.' Completely orchestrated except for his acoustic guitar, this song is a breathtaking departure. Spun around a lyric about activities on a city street on a given day, the orchestra builds and builds the tension until punctured by a single gasp from Townshend.

Throughout his career, Townshend has always shown the willingness to stretch himself and attempt to expand the conventions of rock music (for example, the ambitious rock opera Tommy). However, on this record, he kept his ambition at arm's length. Driven simply by acoustic guitar and harmonica on 'Misunderstood,' the singer laments that he would love to be the type of person who could destroy a person with just a glance. However, by the end of the song, he has to admit that he is so simple that people can see through him like he is made of glass.

The best song on the album, however, is one of Lane's. The lovely ballad 'Annie' has the charm of an Irish folk song. Driven primarily by accordian and violin, Lane's vocals contain an awkward grace that only a mother could love.

Throw in guest appearances by Eric Clapton and Rolling Stones' drummer Charlie Watts, and this album is really a hidden treasure. The public does not get to hear many recordings like this anymore. It is a shame, but maybe that is what helps make this effort so special.

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