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Gasoline Alley
Rod Stewart

Mercury 61264
Released: June 1970
Chart Peak: #27
Weeks Charted: 53

Rod StewartThe music of Rod Stewart helps us to remember many of the small but extremely important experiences of life which our civilization inclines us to forget. Compassion. Care for small things. The textures of sorrow. Remembrance of times past. Reverence for age. Stewart has a rare sensitivity for the delicate moments in a person's existence when a crucial but often neglected truth flashes before his eyes and then vanishes. The amazing character of Stewart's work is largely due to the fact that he can recall these fragile moments of insight to our minds without destroying their essence.

As I listened to Gasoline Alley the first time, I found myself saying again and again, "He can't understand that." But he does. The tone of his voice and the authenticity of his phrasing let you know that he's doing much more than just singing the required lyrics. "The one who shared just about all he had/In a one sided love affair," he moans in "Lady Day." As he goes on he admits "I get scared when I remember too much" and at the end of the song recognizes that the girl to whom his confession is dedicated is not even listening.

I suspect tht experiences like this are virtually universal. Ever pour your heart out to someone and then find that he (or she) just couldn't care less? These are the moments Stewart is interested in and he never fails to capture their distinctive colors. It's almost frightening.

"Country Comforts," for example, conveys perfectly the situations, personalities and feelings of rural life. I've been listening to country-rock albums of the recent vintage for some time now, but Stewart's version of this song is the only recording I can remember that awakens in me a genuine nostalgia for the rural life of my own childhood. Old Man Grayson, that stubborn old coot, refuses to use those new-fangled machines in the mill. "It just ain't natch'rl." "He's a horse drawn man until his dying day." And Grandma's really looking fine -- well, fine for 84. She asks you if you could come by and fix the barn. You say "yes," but quietly hope that in her senility she'll forget your promise. "Poor old girl, she needs a man down on the farm."

At his best Stewart comes very close to Thoreau's meaning in the early pages of Walden: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

The two Rod Stewart albums -- Gasoline Alley and last year's The Rod Stewart Album -- are together the most important listening experience I've had since the Band's first album. His music speaks with a gentleness and depth which seem to heal the wounds and ease the pain. The question of which of the two albums is the better does not interest me in the least. The music and spiritual content of them both is so totally extraordinary that I cannot really separate the two in my mind. Gasoline Alley is for me merely the second volume in what I hope will be a continually expanding "Collected Works" of a supremely fine artist.

- Langdon Winner, Rolling Stone, 9-3-70.

Bonus Reviews!

It's becoming increasingly obvious that Rod Stewart is an unusually gifted singer and writer. His new album, Gasoline Alley, even more than his first solo effort and the reformed Small Faces LP, make it clear that Stewart is an artist of originality and sensitivity as well as power.

Stewart is moving thematically from the predominantly blues-r'n'b style of his first album toward (basically white) American traditional music. Gasoline Alley tries to be evocative rather than funky. Stewart's vocals on the majority of tracks are low-keyed and mellow, and the instrumentation has followed suit. The songs present the well-traveled themes of American rural music: going home, unrequited love, self-directed humor, the railroad (and journeying in general), and death. Like "Man of Constant Sorrow" on his first album, these songs have an old-timey quality, due in part to the recording process itself. Several tracks sound as if they were done live in the studio (or a garage for that matter) and miked acoustically, like those scratchy but haunting 78's of Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson. On "Only a Hobo," perhaps the most time-worn track in terms of its presentation, a fiddle is used to highlight its dusty road aura. Fiddle and/or barrel-house piano are used, in fact, on five of the album's nine cuts, and Ron Wood's slide guitar blends with Martin Quittendon's finger-picked acoustic on several as well.

While I missed the punchiness of Rod's first album at first, the low-keyed tone of Gasoline Alley causes the three rock numbers to sound really driving by contrast. Stewart's rendition of the Stones' "It's All Over Now" lacks the high energy of "Street Fightin' Man" from his previous LP, but it makes up for it with a smiling urgency reminiscent of early rock 'n' roll recordings. "You're My Girl," which you may remember from Rhinoceros' first LP, is done in more dynamic fashion; it's the closest thing to Memphis on the record. The only contemporary sounding track is "My Way of Giving," which features a churchy organ intro and exit. The Small Faces are credited with having backed Rod on "It's All Over Now" and "You're My Girl," and it sounds as if at least organist Ian McLagan is present on the last mentioned cut as well.

Considering the fact that Rod was not long ago the lead singer of what Steve Miller described as "the super stock of rock 'n' roll," The Jeff Beck Group, it seems odd that he has now become what could be best described as a folk singer. Much like Dylan, Rod has made up for the lack of a "good voice" with masterful inflection and a unique way of reading a song. And like Dylan, he seems equally at home with folk ballads and hard rock.

Stewart's experience with Beck, as difficult as it was for him, has given Rod the reknown, and subsequent freedom to do what he wants to do musically. Now he's reverting to the kinds of music he grew up with, although Sam Cooke, once his idol, seems to be a diminishing influence as he develops on his own. Although he's English, Rod's free-living attitude most closely parallels the lifestyles of American journeyman folk singers. He has more bread than they did, of course, but he reflects their values in his stubborn refusal to follow trends or lick record company boots. Rod is in the unusual position of being under contract concurrently to two labels: Mercury as a solo artist, and Warner Brothers as a member of Small Faces. Rod Stewart is his own man.

- Bud Scoppa, Circus, 7-70.

Here's a can't-miss album with Rod Stewart at his best. Stewart, formerly lead singer with Jeff Beck and now a member of Small Faces, is an electrifying performer. Aided by fine musicians, including Ron Woods, who also went from Beck to Small Faces. Stewart here has a series of top-notch numbers, including the title tong, "Cut Across Shorty" and "It's All Over Now."

- Billboard, 1970.

I suspected Stewart of folkie leanings the first time I saw him do his broken-down bluesman imitation with Jeff Beck at the Fillmore. But his solo debut proved such a landmark that when he opened this one with a title tune about the slums featuring only mandolin and acoustic guitar I didn't even snicker. Much all-around excellence here -- Stewart writes songs with almost as much imagination as he picks them, and his band is as (dare I say it?) sensitive as his voice. Nothing as revelatory as "Handbags and Gladrags" or "An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down," though. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

From compositions by Dylan, to Elton John/Bernie Taupin and Bobby Womack (plus his own fine additions), Stewart mixes folk and pure rock & roll for a heady blend that very much follows the formula of his critically acclaimed first release. This time around, the highlights aren't as bright, but for overall quality, it is an excellent package. Also, like the first release, the CD's sound is obviously compressed, but generally clear. B+

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

A full-blown folk outing, it conjures the despair and humor of Woody Guthrie and, on occasion, the wildcat appeal of rockabilly. * * * * *

- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Stewart's underrated sophomore album immediately preceded the mega-selling Every Picture Tells A Story. That album included "Maggie May," but otherwise the two offer similar fare -- reworkings of folk, R&B, soul, and rock classics, alongside covers of contemporary originals, and utilizing essentially the same musicians.

At the time, Stewart was leading a double life as vocalist and frontman of The Faces and as a solo artist. Regarded by many as the best live band around at the time, The Faces also feature intermittently here -- their good-time rock 'n' roll is stamped all over "It's All Over Now" -- while Ron Wood is omnipresent.

A large proportion of the album is acoustic, and in "Gasoline Alley" Wood and Stewart conjured an understated classic, a wistful glance back at teenage years highlighted by Stewart's gritty vocal. A host of uncredited instrumentalists -- such as the fiddler on the neo-acoustic version of "Cut Across Shorty," and the mandolin player on the title track -- imbue the album with a folk feel, though the musicians work up an endearingly slapdash storm on the rockers.

Stewart's tender reading of "Only A Hobo," and the beautifully judged acoustic backing, results in one of the best Dylan covers, and the two originals near the end are smartly executed. Two tracks signposted past involvements -- the Elton John cover was good for E.J., though the Small Faces cover was less inspired.

Co-producer Lou Reisner had signed Stewart as a solo act after his heroics in The Jeff Beck Group. Solo stardom would come with the next album, but the groundwork was pretty much laid out with this disk.

- John Tobler, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

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