Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#563 in the Series) is Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix (MCA US, Polydor UK)
Ronnie Lane was, along with Steve Marriott, one of the founding members of the seminal rock group The Small Faces. Pete Townshend is the back-bone of what can easily be considered one of the top four rock bands of all time, The Who. Together in 1977 while Pete was on a musical vacation between The Who By Number sand what probably should have been their swan song Who Are You, and Ronnie was making yet another attempt to revitalize his solo career after four mostly critically acclaimed yet publicly ignored solo albums with his appropriately named band Slim Chance, the two friends, booze-buddies, and estate neighbors collaborated on the mostly excellent, completely interesting, and acoustically absorbing hard-to-find, sparkler of an album Rough Mix.
In an artistic collaboration like this one where one star shines so much brightly than the other, one might think that the direction and the tone of the album would be more ego-driven driven towards Pete’s rock-anthem guitar style and diminish the more subtle elements of Ronnie Lane and his more pastoral folk-rock sound. Surprisingly enough however, the resulting nuggets on this album show more of a give and take and an almost conspiratorial energy that allows both artists to feed off the other with Pete Townshend displaying his considerable chops on the opening track “My Baby Gives It Away” which is classic Pete in style and lyrical content while Ronnie Lane shows his almost Harry Chapin songwriting skills on “Annie” and the exquisitely intricate “April Fool” that features Eric Clapton on the dobr0.
The list of guest-stars on this album is a veritable who’s who of the British music scene of the day and includes the likes of Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, the late John Entwistle, Boz Burrell (an early member of King Crimson), and John “Rabbit” Bundrick on drums, along with producer Glyn Johns who has worked with everyone from The Band, to The Who, Humble Pie, and beyond.
The best song on the album is song number 9, “Street in the City”. This acoustic based with orchestral accompaniment song is a symphonic tour-de-force that could have been the featured track on any Townshend solo or Who album.
“Catmelody” is another Ronnie Lane romper that showcases the fun that these blokes must have had in these sessions. You can almost picture the guys playing this Jerry Lee Lewis inspired tune, dancing and jiving, until someone calls a stop to the proceedings and it is time to retire to the pub.
Proving once again that there is no bad song that includes a cowbell “Misunderstood” combines the styles of both artists along with a harmonica-cowbell interlude that will make you want to reach for your nearest Nazareth album. The bluesy 70’s rock feel to this song almost makes me high without ingesting any illegal substances.
At the end of the day, what makes this album so special is the sense of comradely, respect, and genuine brotherly love that is expressed between these two friends and brilliant artists. Nowhere is this feeling more evident than on the final two tracks. On “Heart to Hang on To” the two trade verses like a couple of teammates reminiscing at a high school reunion over some classic Townshend intricate guitar riffs, and on the closer “Till The Rivers All Run Dry”, a country tinged beauty that wraps up the album with a soul touching introspective flair with the two pals singing to each other on the Don Williams penned tune.
Till the rivers all run dry/Till the sun falls from the sky/Till life on earth is through/I’ll be needing you.
The lyrics prophetically proved to be more than mere words for Townshend as he helped to pay Ronnie’s medical bills with several fund raising concerts in support of Ronnie’s fight against Multiple Sclerosis, an affliction that eventually took his life in 1997.
If there is a happy ending to his story it is that Ronnie Lane spent most of the last years of his life in Austin Texas fronting an up-to-date, hipper version of Slim Chance that featured Alejandro Escovedo, and being treated like “rock royalty” in the “Music Capital of the World”.
And in the end if you are surrounded by people you love and people that love you, along with an enduring musical legacy, what can really get better than that.
- “My Baby Gives It Away” (Pete Townshend) 4:02
- “Nowhere to Run” (Ronnie Lane) 3:17
- “Rough Mix” (Lane, Townshend) 3:12
- “Annie” (Eric Clapton, Kate Lambert, Lane) 2:56
- “Keep Me Turning” (Townshend) 3:46
- “Catmelody” (Lane, Lambert) 3:12
- “Misunderstood” (Townshend) 3:01
- “April Fool” (Lane) 3:34
- “Street in the City” (Townshend) 6:07
- “Heart to Hang Onto” (Townshend) 4:29
- “Till the Rivers All Run Dry” (W. Holyfield, D. Williams) 3:54
- Ronnie Lane and Pete Townshend — vocals, guitars, electric guitars, mandolins, bass guitars, banjos, ukuleles
- John “Rabbit” Bundrick — organ, Fender Rhodes on “Nowhere to Run,” “Rough Mix,” “Keep Me Turning,” “Heart to Hang Onto”
- Boz Burrell — bass guitar on “Heart to Hang Onto” and “Till the Rivers All Run Dry”
- Mel Collins — saxophones on “Catmelody”
- Eric Clapton — guitars, dobro on “Rough Mix,” “Annie,” “April Fool,” “Till the Rivers All Run Dry”
- Julian Diggle — percussion on “Misunderstood”
- John Entwistle — horns, vocals on “Heart to Hang Onto” and “Till the Rivers All Run Dry”
- Benny Gallagher — accordion on “Annie”
- Chris Laurence — principal bass on “Street in the City”
- Graham Lyle — twelve-string guitar on “Annie”
- David Marquee — double bass on “Annie” and “April Fool”
- Henry Spinetti — drums on “Nowhere to Run,” “Rough Mix,” “Keep Me Turning,” “Heart to Hang Onto,” “Till the Rivers All Run Dry”
- Ian Stewart — piano on “Catmelody”
- Charlie Watts — drums on “My Baby Gives It Away” and “Catmelody”