AL STEWART: RHYMES IN ROOMS (1992)
1) Flying Sorcery; 2) Soho (Needless To Say); 3) Time Passages; 4) Josephine Baker; 5) On The Border; 6) Nostradamus; 7) Fields Of France; 8) Clifton In The Rain / Small Fruit Song; 9) Broadway Hotel; 10) Leave It; 11) Year Of The Cat.
Nice, humble little album, strictly for the fans but real quality stuff for the fans. In the midst of a local industry crisis that left Al without a recording label, he and Peter White undertook a short inexpensive tour with just the two of them onstage, both playing acoustic guitars (with White occasionally switching to accordeon or piano). Come to think of it, it is actually strange how long it took Stewart to come up with an «unplugged» album — many fans must have been secretly hoping for one since 1967 at least, yet the man steadily refused to budge, on the contrary, pumping more and more layers of production onto his simple melodies until it all exploded with the stinkfest of Last Days Of The Century.
Not that Stewart is really to blame — without all the extra arrangements, reduced to bare-bones acoustic strum, the songs lose quite a bit of pizzazz; if Stewart's entire career sounded like Rhymes In Rooms, he'd be even more of a cult taste than he is today. But after the suffocation of Last Days, just about the only way to remedy it was to roll back all the way and give the depressed fans just the opposite of «overproduced», so the record really came in at the right time.
With the surprise exception of the 'Clifton In The Rain / Small Fruit Song' medley, hearkening back to the old days of obscurity, the tracklist is predictable: hits and classics ranging from Past, Present & Future to Time Passages. But it is interesting to learn whether all these Parsons-era classics still have anything to say with the Parsonage taken away from them — and yes, 'Time Passages' works well without the underwater keyboards, and 'Year Of The Cat' does not wither away and die without the saxophone solo, partly because of Peter White's highly technical, but pleasant solos (somehow complex solos played on an acoustic guitar tend to come across as soulful even when the same solos, played on an electric, would seem ugly — go figure), partly because, yes, they were expertly written and heartfelt tunes from the very beginning; it only took Parsons to make the average layman notice that.
Needless to say — no, not Soho, but just that the two tunes off Last Days sound much better than the originals, particularly 'Fields Of France' (although I miss the flute solos, they did make the song way too reminiscent of late-period Jethro Tull). Overall, the acoustic duo worked so well that Stewart even went on to replicate the experience several times (most recently, with Dave Nachmanoff) — not really necessary, in my opinion, but certainly money-saving. Thumbs up as a one-time experience, but it is quite friendly on Al's part that he did not go on to abuse the acoustic-only principle.