July 11, 2006
Pop/Rock, Rock & Roll

Album Review

Most people don't think of Rolling Stones' guitarist Ronnie Wood as a solo artist. His career in pop music has been a long one and is entering its fifth decade. Like his former Faces' bandmate Rod Stewart, Wood has always been a supreme collaborator, even on his own projects. Finally, Virgin Records has issued Ronnie Wood Anthology: The Essential Crossexion, a double-disc of Wood's recordings as both a solo artist and as a member of bands like the Creation and the Birds (the U.K. group, not the California one), as bassist for the Jeff Beck Group, lead guitarist with the Faces, on Rod Stewart's early solo records, and, of course, with the Rolling Stones. For the most part, the compilers at Virgin have done an excellent job here. Wood fans could argue over track selections forever, but what you get is a single-disc overview of his solo albums, and another single-disc overview of his work with the aforementioned bands.
Wood's first solo outing, I've Got My Own Album to Do, was released in 1974 and it was a shade of things to come, as the first two cuts here "I Can Feel the Fire" and "Cancel Everything" show him working with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards respectively. The former cut also features David Bowie on backing vocals, but it's "Cancel Everything" that offers the real magic: just listen to the guitar interplay between Richards and Wood. Also on the first disc is a live version of "Seven More Days," written by Bob Dylan and recorded at Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, where Wood was backed by Booker T. & the MG's. Other standouts include his read of George Harrison's "Far East Man," Bobby Womack's "If You Don't Want My Love," and the funky Brit-soul of "Fountain of Love," with horns and Anita Pointer on the backing vocals. The ballads "Always Wanted More" and "Breathe on Me" showcase two sides of Wood's sensitivity. But it's the funkiness of "Somebody Else Might" (with Bernard Fowler) immediately preceding the rowdy rocker "Josephine" that offers a wonderfully and wildly contrasting sonic picture of Wood's range. There is an unreleased track here as well called "You Strum and I'll Sing" with Rod Stewart and Kelly Jones.
Disc two is fascinating more for the cuts from the Birds and the Creation than for the better-known, later material. It's raw and yet derivative of a lot of stuff out at the time. Wood admits that "You're on My Mind," the first song he ever wrote, was inspired by the Yardbirds (no kidding). and recorded with the Birds (who have two singles' worth of material here) -- the tune is no great shakes but it's pretty wondrous for its adventurousness within the 45 rpm format of the era. "How Can It Be" has tons of guitar, drum, and even harmonica effects. In his liner notes, Wood comments on the more psychedelic Creation material by simply saying: "Hovering on the verge of something good." OK. But the two Creation cuts here are really a mess, as though nobody knew what to leave out. There are three tracks from Beck-Ola, and one from Truth; they're earthy with wild guitar effects and a woolly savagery in the rhythm tracks that serves to focus on Rod the Mod's singing style and of course, Jeff Beck's guitartistry. Wood keeps them all from going off the rails while adding some imaginative effects all his own.
There are a whopping eight songs here that represent what must have been a beautiful time in Wood's life, when he was with the Faces and with Rod Stewart (who was always backed by the Faces in the early days, he just emerged as a killer frontman). These cuts include Ronnie Lane's "Ooh La La" and titles from "Every Picture Tells a Story" to "Gasoline Alley." There are only two cuts from the Rolling Stones and they're both from 1981 (when Wood's son Jesse was born); he co-wrote both with Jagger and Richards. The slide workout that occurs on "Black Limousine" is a fine set-ender; it's all rowdy and strutting, but it's really "Everything Is Turning to Gold," that takes the day. It's spooky, funky, and slippery. The raw energy and Charlie Watts' in-the-pocket beat, which everyone else plays all around, is amazing. Ultimately, this Essential Crossexion is a treat, a wonder ever revealing the sheer range and depth that Wood has displayed since the beginning. We don't hear often enough about the man, but we should. Highly recommended.
Thom Jurek, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. I Can Feel the Fire
  2. Cancel Everything
  3. Far East Man
  4. Big Bayou
  5. If You Don't Want My Love
  6. 1234
  7. Fountain of Love
  8. Seven Days
  9. Always Wanted More
  10. Breathe on Me
  11. Somebody Else Might
  12. Josephine
  13. Testify
  14. Whadd'ya Think
  15. This Little Heart
  16. Little Mixed Up
  17. You Strum and I'll Sing
  18. You're on My Mind
  19. You Don't Love Me
  20. No Good Without You Baby
  21. How Can It Be
  22. Midway Down
  23. The Girls Are Naked
  24. I Ain't Superstitious
  25. All Shook Up
  26. Plynth (Water Down the Drain)
  27. Jailhouse Rock
  28. Flying
  29. Gasoline Alley
  30. Miss Judy's Farm
  31. Too Bad
  32. Maggie May
  33. Stay with Me
  34. Every Picture Tells a Story
  35. Ooh La La
  36. Everything Is Turning to Gold
  37. Black Limousine