Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane

Rough Mix (MCA '77) Rating: A-
A low-key star turn from The Who leader Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, his Small Faces/Faces buddy from way back in their "Mod" days, this stripped down affair is a feather in the cap of both participants. Alternating tracks, Lane lends his creaky old croak to enduring ballads such as “Nowhere To Run,” a low-key effort that's of a piece with his criminally underrated solo albums, “Annie” (a co-write with Eric Clapton and Kit Lambert), a lonesone tearjerker that's among his most affecting songs, and "April Fool," another musically modest but deeply moving narrative that confirms that the simple pleasures in life are often the best. Lane also delivers “Catmelody,” another Lambert co-write and an energetic boogie rocker on which their all-star backing band - including Mel Collins on sax, Charlie Watts on drums, and Ian Stewart on piano, as well as Lane and Townshend themselves of course - are given room to shine. This is also the case on the Lane/Townshend written title track, an energetic instrumental on which Clapton lets loose on guitar like he's chasing Patti Boyd or something. It may be more of a jam than an actual song, and it doesn't fit in that great with the rest of the album, being that it's more of a Clapton and John "Rabbit" Bundrick showcase than a Lane/Townshend one, but it's still nice to see EC play with some fire. For his part, Pete's songs are more experimental than Ronnie's but are similarly introspective (lyrically not unlike Who By Numbers) and are also top-shelf; though their songs are very different from one another, it somehow all works as the album effectively juxtaposes the duo's vastly different styles. Pete starts the album off with "My Baby Gives It Away," an amusingly light, catchy pop rocker with some hot slide guitar, and the infectious pop of “Keep Me Turning” is another winner that sounds nothing like The Who. I like the low-key, slinky funk groove of "Misunderstood," whose cool hipster lyrics gave Pete's later greatest hits album its title, and though perhaps he goes overboard with the orchestrations on the overly long "Street In The City," it is still an awfully pretty song despite its regrettable air of pretentiousness. Pete also wrote the excellent "Heart To Hang Onto," the album's only duet and a moodier effort most reminiscent of The Who, in part because John Entwistle helps out on horns. The closing cover of "'Till The Rivers All Run Dry" is somewhat anti-climactic but still pleasant enough, and the album on the whole is a stirring testament to two top-notch songwriters. Of course, Townshend's skills in that area are well documented, but for my money this is arguably the best album he's ever done outside of The Who, and Lane more than holds his own with instantly agreeable songs that have an approachable front porch feel (his contributions are even more impressive when you consider that he was already dealing with the multiple sclerosis that would all but grind his recording career to a halt). The album doesn't try to make any "big statements" or do anything new, and as such I'd rank it as a minor rather than a major classic, but Rough Mix is at least that, as this overlooked gem of an album sounds as good today as the day it was recorded.

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