WUMB December Program Guide

Digging Deep into an Old CD….

Happy November. Hope you’re doing well, and thanks for your support during the Fall Fundraiser.

I’ve been digging through some old CDs that were recently given to me. What a great gift. I grew up right before the internet became a thing, and I will always love hard copy albums. To me, liner notes are gold. Reading them, poring over them, is an important way that I learn about the music and artists I love. It’s one of my regrets that we collectively have made distribution of music (almost) exclusively digital these days. Songs feel disembodied to me when I hear them jumbled together with no context in a playlist. I become confused. When I hear a song that piques my interest I need to know as much as I can about it. It’s not enough for me to just hear it.

One album that I’ve been spending time with lately is Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story. Sure, it’s got the hits. And they’re great: “Maggie May,” “Reason to Believe,” “Mandolin Wind.” But taken as a whole, the album is a masterpiece in the way that it brings together disparate styles of music in a way that makes the album sound different (even 5 decades later) while remaining a cohesive piece. Stewart and the musicians on the album weave together classical guitar pieces with American spirituals. British folk with black R&B. Mandolins and dobros with pounding drums and intense bass lines. I’ve never heard folk instrumentation used so well on a rock and roll record. And then there’s Rod Stewart’s updated Sam Cooke-esque vocal style that he developed over the previous year with the Jeff Beck Group and Faces. It’s his overall charisma and orchestration that pulls whole thing together. He produced the album, after all.

It may be easy to dismiss Rod for some of his commercial choices later in the 70s, but the guy had an artistic vision on Every Picture Tells a Story. It’s worth another listen. Ironically, the liner notes on the original release are frustratingly misleading and sparse (he credits one of the musicians as “the mandolin player in Lindisfarne”). There are others who have appreciated the album over the years, who have done the hard work of finding out the details behind the making of the album. Thankfully, they’ve shared their findings on the internet. So I guess all is not lost there.

~ Brendan

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