Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance: Ooh La La: An Island Harvest (Island)
There were only a few songs by the Faces and Small Faces that were pop currency during their day—“Itchycoo Park” was Small Faces’ only U.S. Top 20 in 1967 just as the immortal riff-o-rama “Stay With Me” made the same singles cut for the Faces in ’71. But this semi-continuous band loomed just behind and to the left of the better known British invasion and heavy acts in their respective mini-musical epochs, and by the time they were the Faces the band developed a reputation among connoisseurs as the primo shambling live act of pre-punk 70’s. Steve Marriot and Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, who must have been born with a halo cuz he ended up a Rolling Stone, got all the attention, and we briefly thought Rod the Mod a genius, because he briefly was. And as much as I like the first four Rod Stewart solo albums, now that I’ve got them etched into my hippocampus, I’d trade them all to have the best of the impish, irrepressible trad rock ‘n roll bon vivant musical huckster, little Ronnie Lane.
What set Lane apart so peculiarly is in part the weird semi-spiritual journey he set out on. Of course, atavistic treks were the norm back then (we've got to get ourselves back to the garden, after all), but few members of bands as well-known as the Faces turned into a dirty agrarian bugger (albeit a cute one) quite like Lane. Then add to that Lane’s ineffable innocence—his smile could charm a snake, and when he got sad it was a sort of universal sadness that made you want to put your arm over his shoulder and walk with him down a dusty road toward the sunset. You can get a taste of the personal side of Lane on the low-budget, intermittently rewarding documentary The Passing Show: The Life & Music of Ronnie Lane, which intercuts period footage with post-mortem commentary from his better-known friends and colleagues.
Many of Lane’s songs are scattered across albums with better-known tracks. He co-wrote most of the original Small Faces songs, but only sang lead on a handful (including “Song of a Baker”, one of their very best power chord tunes). Lane only really developed his own style with the Faces, with the dozen or so songs that were primarily Lane’s (“Debris”, “You’re So Rude” among them) standing taller in retrospect than they did at the time. And he teamed up with Pete Townshend for the weird, lovely half-and-half one-off Rough Mix.
But don’t let this lead you to believe that Lane was just a sideman who leavened the excesses of his better-known buddies a la Mick Jones or that guy in Pavement. Lane carried on solo after the Faces broke up (he was the first to leave) and recorded two sassy, pub-worthy albums with his band Slim Chance for Island before drifting off into folkie innocence and the hard misery of multiple sclerosis, which if Townshend is to be trusted was setting in by the time Rough Mix was recorded in 1976. And it’s around those two albums, presented almost in their entirety, that Island attempts to craft some sort of career overview with Ooh La La: An Island Harvest by throwing in live tracks from a BBC session, some of which rework songs from the Faces era, and a few prev. unreleased cuts to fill things out. These additions to the Island albums do add breadth to this compilation, so if this is your only way to get your hands on Lane's Island music, this import is well worth your cash. But wouldn’t it have been better for Island to reissue the two original albums as Lane intended, and can’t Rhino or someone else with taste and clout pull together a several-CD career overview so that you don’t have to take my word for the natural beauty of this small face's bedraggled, interrupted esprit?
Suburban Base Records: The History of Hardcore, Jungle, Drum & Bass 1991-1997 (New State)
I’m not the one to make it past the velvet rope at trendy clubs or to twirl for hours on end to the same throbbing beat in the comfort of my own home. So while I appreciate the signifying history of Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997, it’s a little too samey and subtle. (Although check out what Michael and Jason wrote for a more enthusiastic appraisal.) And while I really didn’t know that Suburban Base ever went away, I’m glad they came back first with this epic 3-CD compilation, which shows them pacing successive genres of clubby, harsh British dance music during the 90’s in a manner not too dissimilar to Rough Trade Records during the post-punk era (although lacking in RT’s world-historical ecumenicalism and influence for sure). Forget who is playing what, Suburban Base Records is a spectacular embodiment of Brian Eno’s notion of “scenius”—the fertile artistic ecology that transcends individual participants. Now forget that too, because what really matters is that the music as presented on this compilation evolves as the British rave scene mutates and diverges during the 90s, with Suburban Base following the darker, crunchier, less vertiginous pathway toward jungle and drum & bass. The purists are dissing this reissue because the tracks are mixed versions, but I love the flow, and “Shot In the Dark” into “Deepa”, “Flammable” into “Gun Connection”—well, foo on the purists. Ima dance.
Scribbles (brief notes on records reviewed previously in Odyshape):
Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Voce: Complicated Day (Enja/Yellowbird) Like an endearing, historically infused Robert Ashley record set to real jazz, the kind people listen to socially. And here's what Jason said.
Drive-By Truckers: English Oceans (ATO) By kicking off their tenth album with a Sex Pistols riff, the Truckers blast any thought of slowing down to smithereens. I’m not quite where everyone else is with this record, but damn close. And here's what Michael said.
Studio One Rocksteady (Soul Jazz) As deeply compiled as reggae and its predecessors are, it takes Soul Jazz to have the taste to sneak one down the middle. And here's what Michael said.
Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks) What the Dead Boys might have been had they been the Dead Boys and Girls. And here's what Nicky said.
Company Freak: Le Disco Social (Opus) Big and warm and funky and disco, but big and warm and funky first. Their double bill with Low-Cut Connie in June isn’t as weird as it sounds. Dance, people. And here's what Jason said.