Rod Stewart • Gasoline Alley

Mercury/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-016
Single LP
1970/2011

Music

Sound

Rod Stewart • Every Picture Tells a Story

Mercury/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-010
Single LP
1971/2011

Music

Sound

by Paul Bolin | December 23, 2011

ounger readers of The Audio Beat may find this hard to believe, but once upon a time Rod Stewart was a truly great singer and not the vacuous, preening schmo he has been for the last thirty-plus years. After years of bumping around the English blues/rock scene of the 1960s, Stewart first drew substantial notice as the singer for the original Jeff Beck Group, where he first hooked up with longtime partner/collaborator Ronnie Wood (of the Rolling Stones since 1975) and, after that band’s implosion, he became the singer for the Faces, formerly the Small Faces, and simultaneously embarked on a solo career. The Faces specialized in boozy, knees-up, good-time rock'n'roll, but Stewart’s solo albums took another tack.

Until Stewart abandoned England for the glitz of Los Angeles on the Atlantic Crossing album, his solo work combined exceedingly well-chosen covers, often of old soul or blues tunes, and his own well-crafted songs, often co-written with acoustic guitarist Martin Quittenton. The settings were acoustic, save for the occasional rowdy rockers, with Wood contributing electric guitar, slide guitar, and bass, as well as a cast of regulars including Quittenton, drummer Micky Waller, and pianist/bassist Pete Sears, who later turned up in Jefferson Starship. Stewart’s music was soulful and honest, the musicianship perfectly tight but also loose.

Mobile Fidelity has wisely chosen to apply their magic to two of Stewart’s very finest efforts, 1970’s Gasoline Alley and the next year’s Every Picture Tells a Story, which was Stewart’s American breakthrough with the huge hit "Maggie May." I was able to compare both of the MoFi LPs to clean original pressings from the early 1970s. The more noticeable improvement was on Gasoline Alley, which was the woollier-sounding of the originals. The 1970s LP was somewhat defocused and phasey, with images that weren’t quite locked down. The MoFi was much superior and clearly more clean-sounding. Pete Sears’ barrelhouse piano on "I Used To Love Her" was a murky blur on the original Mercury pressing and was much more a present part of the arrangement on the MoFi. The multiple acoustic guitars on Bob Dylan’s "Only a Hobo" were a lovely multi-layered bit of musical embroidery; on the original LP the defocused sound made it impossible to follow each instrument.

The reissue’s images were rock solid, each voice and instrument occupying a specifically defined space. Audiophile quality it ain’t, but the superior Mobile Fidelity sound lets the listener appreciate every bit of the good, honest music-making from the days when Stewart played with his friends -- who played for the joy of it -- rather than the most expensive session men money could buy.

Every Picture was a somewhat better-sounding record to begin with; the imaging was much more solid than on Gasoline Alley and there was a more focused, dynamic presentation. I was pleasantly surprised when I brought out my pristine original LP, which I bought in 1972 (!). There was a slight boxiness, but it was thoroughly respectable, sonically speaking. Here the MoFi engineers’ magic was a bit more subtle. The wooden bodies of the acoustic guitars and mandolin on "Maggie May" and "Mandolin Wind" were appreciably more present, and Stewart’s brandy-and-sandpaper voice had more presence and palpability. Micky Waller’s bashing drums in "I’m Losing You" had a greater explosive quality, and there was a better sense of (for lack of a better term) musical togetherness.

The surfaces of MoFi's Silver Edition 160-gram pressings were flawless and ghostly silent; the gatefold sleeves were note-perfect re-creations of the particularly nicely done originals. MoFi did with these LPs exactly what a fine reissue should do. Nothing was prettied up or tinkered with; the original records, which easily stand the test of time in musical terms, were merely presented as well as it is possible to do -- with tender loving care.

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