Best known for his membership in the Jeff Beck Group, The Faces, and of course The Rolling Stones, Ronnie Wood has also had a pretty decent side career as a solo artist. This first solo album, so-named to tweak buddy/sparring partner Rod Stewart, is probably the best-known and most highly regarded of the bunch (seven studio albums as of 2015), and it’s a fun if significantly flawed record. For starters, Wood’s voice isn’t very good, but it does have a weathered charm, and besides he gets plenty of vocal (and musical) help from an all-star supporting cast that includes future bandmates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (as well as Mick Taylor on a few tracks), then-current bandmates Rod Stewart, Ian McLagan, and Kenney Jones, and plenty of others such as bassist Willie Weeks, drummer Andy Newmark, and several prominent backing vocalists aside from Rod, Mick, and Keith. The album opens strongly with the Stonesy, reggae influenced, Jagger-enhanced “I Can Feel The Fire” before the George Harrison/Ronnie Wood co-write “Far East Man,” a great laid back tune that George also recorded, though I like this version better, in large part because I love George’s weepy slide guitar playing on it (he also contributes backing vocals). “Mystifies Me” is another great Wood composition, though I much prefer the Son Volt cover version two decades later, because let’s face it Jay Farrar is a much better singer than Wood is. “Take A Look At The Guy” is another fun, fast-paced boogie rocker with Rod on backing vocals, while “Act Together” (a Mick/Keith co-write) and the later “Cancel Everything” are both soulful ballads (the latter more mid-tempo) that make good use of backing vocalists (Ruby Turner, Irene Chanter, and Doreen Chanter). The second side of the album (tracks 7-11), highlighted by the aforementioned “Cancel Anything” and even more so by another soulful ballad, this one a cover of Rudy Clark’s “If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody” that’s essentially a Ron and Rod duet (with a little bit of Keith too), is considerably weaker than the first, but there’s little in the way of filler, as the album has an enticingly loose and lively feel that’s fun to listen to (it sure sounds like the guys had a lot of fun making the album). The Mick/Keith co-write “Sure The One You Need” is nothing special but the guitar interplay makes it worthwhile anyway, and “Crotch Music” is basically a 6-minute jam session but it likewise works for me. The bloozy stomp of “Am I Grooving You” provides another enjoyable album track, with Keith again helping out on vocals, while the synth-y “Shirley” isn’t all that memorable and is probably the weakest song here but even this one isn’t offensively bad or anything. Basically, if you like nothing fancy, straightforward rock ‘n’ roll (i.e. Stones, Faces, Black Crowes, etc.) then you should like this album. It’s not a classic or anything, but it’s probably a better overall showcase for Ronnie Wood’s talents than anything that he subsequently did with The Rolling Stones (where he’s a distant third fiddle, though over the past 40 years he has mastered the art of the dangling cigarette!).
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