Rod
Stewart’s
voice is so unique,
expressive, and now, 45 years after he reached his first taste of world-wide
fame so familiar that he can not only get away with covering just about any
genre of music, he can thrive commercially doing so. But his decade-long
infatuation with the Great American Songbook—or his love of seeing his name atop
the charts the world over—was not every Stewart fan’s cup of tea. And though
critics varied in their assessment of Stewart’s covering of Porter, Kern,
Gershwin, et al --from fair to awful--the public at large snapped up large
quantities of Songbook collections. Clive Davis’ marketing machine was in full
force, selling Rod the crooner in salons, supermarkets and shopping networks.
Commercially, it was perhaps Rod Stewart’s best decade. Along with a weak, lazy
effort at covering soft rock hits in 2006, a mediocre soul album in 2009 and a
surprisingly decent Christmas album last December, the Songbooks and the
“concept” period made Rod Stewart a hell of a lot of cash.

Covering different genres and other people’s
hits is one way to use a unique, expressive and familiar voice. And there’s
nothing wrong with that--unless you happen to be Rod Stewart. Then it is a crime
against humanity. An abomination against God’s plan. A sin against nature.
Because Rod Stewart was given another gift at least as valuable as the voice—the
talent to create original music. And it’s a gift he should never have retired.
But, the story goes, somewhere amongst us lurks an evil record exec; Satan’s
henchman who in the early 90s told Stewart his songwriting stunk. His name we
dare not speak (mostly because we don’t know it) but his existence we curse.
Because Rod Stewart is a songwriter extraordinaire. No, he is not Paul Simon or
Paul McCartney or John Lennon or Bob Dylan—natural songsters who can kill an
afternoon by writing a dozen songs. And yes, Stewart’s songs can be
derivative—of his own earlier material as well as others, but his best work is
so honest, thoughtful, moving and observant, his weaknesses are easy to
overlook. We have massive proof of his songwriting genius—“Maggie May,”
“Mandolin Wind,” “ You’re in My Heart,” “I Was Only Joking,” “The Wild
Horse,”
and a few dozen others.

And now in 2013, we have even more proof--a new
collection called Time in which Rod
Stewart does what Rod Stewart should do—create new music that makes us sing,
dance, weep, think, feel, smile. It is not groundbreaking music—Rod Stewart
broke some ground 40 years ago and doesn’t need to break any more. He needs to
simply deliver his brand of rock, pop, soul and in one instance on Time, country. This is what God intended
when he created Rod Stewart, the musician. And what God has created, let no
ignorant record exec, greedy bean counter or lazy critic obstruct.

 

 



 

 

 



First things first. Time is flat out the best album Rod Stewart
has put forth in 25 years. To say he’s found his voice after 40 years in the
music business, and after crafting some of rock’s finest songs, would be
ludicrous. 

But he seems to have found a
very strong second wind as a songwriter. And the material produced by this late
career songcraft sounds like the Rod Stewart of old—only different. There are
some familiar phrases and themes but it’s clearly an older, wiser, and perhaps
even happier Rod Stewart who’s telling the stories and making the observations.
While several songs on Time recall
other Stewart songs, the album itself is like no other Stewart album. Rod and
his musical partner Kevin Savigar have produced a rich collection of original
songs—with one cover—to create a superb album that Rod Stewart fans—old and
young--are going to soon place among the top ten albums of Stewart’s career.

Time
is not Gasoline Alley or Every Picture Tells a Story or even Out of Order. Nor
should it be. Rod and Co. might tell you it is, but that’s nothing more than Rod
selling records. (Remember all those myths that were dispelled in “Rod: The
Autobiography”? Who do you think started and/or perpetuated all of them?) Time is a modern day Rod Stewart album—it
does feature electronic instrumentation, Pro Tools, drum machines, overdubs,
etc. on a few tracks. But Stewart and Savigar never let these get in the way.
The productions enhance, they do not detract. Stewart and Savigar know it’s
neither 1971 nor 1986.

Oh, and the voice itself—it’s nearly as good as
ever. Definitely older, definitely weaker (don’t believe me—go find a live
recording from about 1984 and compare) but still full of charisma, and capable
of so much feeling and emotion. At 68 he still can rock fairly hard—at least in
the studio, and break our hearts on his marvelous ballads. I’ve stopped guessing
how long Rod Stewart the singer is going to be around. I’m starting to
assume—and hope—it’s forever. But the best news of all is that Rod the singer,
for now, has his best songwriter back.

The
Songs...

 



 

 



 



She Makes Me Happy (written by R.Stewart, C.Kentis, D.Kirkpatrick,
C.Korsch, D.Palmer, P.Warren)

 



How great is it that Rod
Stewart’s return to form starts with a signature wolf call (whoo-hoo)? This
irresistible, upbeat ditty, presumably to his wife and long-time love of a
decade-plus, rocks hard—not in the Faces/Stones sense but in the rock/pop sense
that cemented Stewart’s legend in the mid-70s. With mandolins, fiddles and even
a dulcimer, “Happy” is the musical upbeat cousin of Stewart’s 1998
version of Ronnie Lane’s “Ooh La La.” And just like his version of “Twisting
the Night Away”
and his own “When a Man’s in Love” you have to fight
the urge (or not) to get up and dance around when this one’s played at maximum
level. So infectious you can’t help but smile. Whether he’s “rocking in
paradise
” or laying off “cheeseburgers and fries” to trim the
waistline, Rod Stewart s is clearly a happy man. And he wants us to be too. It’s
a joyous start to a joyous album. GRADE A-

 

Can’t Stop Me Now (written by R.Stewart & K.Savigar)



Rod Stewart fans know the story well.
Disheveled, long-haired upstart gets the boot from Decca as well as a few other
record labels because the clean-cut cutesies of the day were ruling the charts.
Fortunately, the young lad with the funny voice kept at it, paying dues with
various bands until he caught a break with Jeff Beck, Ron Wood and, later
“Maggie May.” It’s a fascinating road-to-success story and now, thanks to
Can’t Stop Me Now,” a fairly inspiring one. We’ve seen the rock star
riches--Stewart showing one of his mansions to Oprah, driving his latest Ferrari
to Starbucks, and even being wowed by the guest house his daughter displayed on
MTV’s Cribs. (or was it VH1—does it matter anymore?). But here’s the reminder
that it’s all been bought and paid for by a guy who paid his dues in full.
It was rough and it was tough/ but I couldn’t get enough/of that rhythm and
blues I played/I was singing in the pubs/singing in the clubs/then along came
Maggie May.”
From someone other than Rod Stewart that might come across as
nothing more than vanity but Rod Stewart has always expressed his gratitude and
acknowledged that he is one lucky son of a bitch. “Can’t Stop Me Now” is
not only a reminder that he’s worked his ass off to make it but also a show of
gratitude towards his father (“Thanks for the Love/Thanks for the
guidance/Thanks for the Tartan Pride”
) and another nod to Lady Luck herself.
(Though I would argue his only luck is being given God-given gifts that are
highly valued and handsomely rewarded during his time on earth.) The song’s
chorus and lines like “I will climb this mountain if it’s the last thing that
I do”
provide inspiration for anyone with a dream, and anyone who has
someone pulling for them to succeed. With Emerson Swinford’s crunching guitars
and a cleverly programmed drum machine (by Savigar) thumping away, it’s a
pulse-raising inducement to get off your ass and make something happen. Who
knows what could happen if you do? You might get to date a Swedish bombshell
someday or own the ultimate model railway. GRADE A

 

It’s Over (written by R.Stewart, K.Savigar, John5)



Unless you’re a lawyer,
divorce is nasty business as anyone who has experienced it can attest. On
It’s Over,” Stewart and co-writers Savigar and former Marilyn Manson
guitarist John5, create a melancholy masterpiece that puts to music the pain,
agony and fear created by a failed marriage involving children. It is, arguably,
the saddest record Rod Stewart has ever recorded and thus, an instant classic.
Stewart is himself a two-time divorcee, and though he may be a rock star known
for his semi-long list of girlfriends, he is also the product of an unbroken
home, making divorce an even more unsettling experience (at least that’s my
theory). Both of his divorces featured small children so he knows what he’s
lamenting about. I would caution listeners who think this song is specifically
about either of Stewart’s divorces though. Clearly it’s about both—and neither.
Rod has broadened the experience once again to make a statement about divorce.
And that statement is—it’s bloody awful and hurts like hell. Not exactly
breaking news but art of course doesn’t always have to tell us something
new—sometimes its greatest value is reinforcing and reinterpreting the obvious.
And I swear to God, every time I hear arranger Chuck Kentis’ and Savigar’s
strings during the instrumental break, I see the blackest storm clouds rolling
in, making “It’s Over” a visceral experience that for me personally is
almost too much to take. “All the plans we had together/up in smoke and gone
forever/poisoned by a lawyer’s letter/It’s over I don’t want our kids to
suffer/Can we talk to one another/you were once my wife, my lover/it’s over.“
This is not what Bernie Taupin had in mind when he wrote about “Sad Songs”
hurting so good. Divorce is hell. Period. And this song reflects that fact sadly
and beautifully. GRADE A+

Brighton Beach (written R.Stewart & J.Cregan)



Brighton Beach” is a
gorgeous, wistful, nostalgic, romantic ballad that recalls first love—its
innocence, its purity and its wonderful naiveté—and the times that surrounded
it. Rod was clearly smitten and reminisces on the way he conquered his love’s
heart for at least a short time. “And we fell in love/and I toured your
heart/ with my out-of-tune guitar/You were wonderful/you were mystical and the
envy of all my friends.”
Stewart masterfully and economically sets the stage

for this epic teenage love affair with references to the times—“What a time
to be alive/Remember Janis and Jimi/Kennedy and King/How we cried.”
She was

Greta Garbo and he was Jack Kerouac ….(sigh) if only we didn’t have to grow up.
“Brighton Beach” is not purely autobiographical. As Keith Richards wrote
in his most excellent autobiography “No song is about one thing.” And in this
version, our narrator is heartbroken as his love’s father put the kibosh on the
budding romance. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter though how it ended. After
all, it likely would have ended as most (young) first loves do. "Brighton
Beach"
is not a cry for the old days, it’s a fond remembrance of what was.

It is tinged with a slight sadness but there is always a slight sadness to even
the best nostalgia. There is a familiar strain throughout the song—a lovely
acoustic guitar that can only belong to Jim Cregan. Though I would have
loved a nice long Cregan solo ala “I Was Only Joking,” “ My Heart Can’t Tell
You No
” or “Have I Told You Lately,” there is still enough Cregan

work in it to add it to the Stewart/Cregan list of classics
. GRADE A+

 

Beautiful Morning (written by R.Stewart, C.Kentis, D.Kirkpatrick,
C.Korsch, D.Palmer, P.Warren)

A first-rate piece of power pop, “Beautiful
Morning”
is fluff that like, “She Makes Me Happy” is hard to get out
of your head—a driving, relentless, joyous (there’s that word again!) tune that
reaches pop perfection when played at maximum volume. Rod once again plays the
bon vivant of rock on “Morning” but instead of extolling the virtues of
‘ludes during a “Dirty Weekend” (Blondes Have More Fun) he now expresses
the joy of more simple pleasures—hanging with the wife on a weekend getaway,
witnessing a sunrise or wild life on a clear day. On paper that may sound like
Stewart has finally become a member of his dreaded pipe-and-slipper club but in
“Beautiful Morning,” thanks to the singer’s jubilant delivery, it comes
off as even more exciting than the weekend of debauchery. (Either that or I have
joined Rod in the pipe-and-slippers cub.) Production note: The astute listener
will notice the drum machine that was featured on the free download of
“Beautiful Morning” (that came with Stewart’s Christmas Album last fall)
has been replaced with an actual drummer. It’s a good move as Kenny Aronoff’s
drum fills add an exciting dimension to the song. GRADE B+

 

Live The Life (written by R.Stewart, C.Kentis, D.Kirkpatrick,
J.Rosseau)

There are more creative tracks on Time and perhaps a few with better lyrics
so “Live the Life” may technically rank lower than some of the others,
but it’s my favorite song on Time.
Perhaps it’s a personal thing as I currently have two college-age boys but
hearing Rod dispensing life-long wisdom to a love-struck young man against a
gentle mid-tempo jam is both extremely reassuring and highly entertaining. It’s
a bit didactic as Rod pulls out a couple worn out clichés (“Ya gotta fall
before you learn how to stand”)
but age-old wisdom never really goes out of
style and Rod’s life lessons are gentle, warm and come from the heart—he’s just
as concerned that his son enjoys life as he is that he works hard and remains
true. “Walk down the aisle/With that big old smile/collect your diploma with
your head held high/Study with soul/to reach that goal/but always remember/ let
the good times roll.”
And in typical Stewart fashion Rod highly recommends
the virtues of loving a good woman: “Walk by the lake/Hand in hand/Try and
see a sunrise in a foreign land/Tell her that you love her/Don’t be afraid/And
keep every promise that you’ve ever made.”
Musically, “Live the Life”
is highlighted by a perfectly placed harmonica solo by longtime Stewart
keyboardist Chuck Kentis that blends in effortlessly. Like a lot of Time, Stewart is in perfect unison with his
musicians. I’m not sure whether he recorded his vocals in his shower or closet
like he did with his last seven albums, but he doesn’t sound like he’s singing
to a backing track like much of his recent work.
GRADE B+

 

The Finest Woman (written by R.Stewart, K.Savigar, E.Swinford)

Out of Order had “Lethal Dose of Love,
Rod Stewart (aka Every Beat of My Heart) had “Red Hot in Black” and A
Spanner in the Works almost had “Shock to the System.” Time has “The Finest Woman,” a
somewhat shallow attempt at paying homage to a Goddess. Though less sexual than
some of his other Goddess songs, “The Finest Woman” is still the weakest
track on Time. It’s a noble attempt
to rock and while the Voice sounds great, and the musicians give an enthusiastic
performance (thumbs up to Emerson Swinford’s near Davies-esque opening, as well
a soulful effort by the trio of background singer), the song suffers from lyrics
that fail to impress. Other tracks on Time prove that
not every line has to be a winner, and rock and roll is full of classics with
shallow lyrics but “The Finest Woman” lacks a strong enough hook as well
overall creativity to fit into the rest of the strong material on this album.
It’s a ho-hum effort that completely pales next to the other 11 tracks.

GRADE C-

 

Time (written by R.Stewart, K.Savigar, E.Swinford)

A kinder, gentler “You Got a Nerve,”
(Footloose & Fancy Free) “Time” is a Stonesy blues number that

relies solely on magnificent vocals and a killer production. The lyrics on paper
are nothing special but this is a case of Rod the singer and producer totally
saving Rod the lyricist. Backed, and perhaps inspired by vocalists Angela
Fisher, Di Reed and Lucy Woodward, Stewart delivers one of his all-time greatest
vocal performances. The voice is defiant, angry, sad and forgiving—all in one
song. As I’ve said before, what Rod Stewart lacks in vocal range he makes up for
with emotional range. “Time” is also bolstered by cowriter Emerson
Swinford’s blistering guitar solo, the best on the album. Brilliant.
GRADE A-

Picture In A Frame (written by T.Waits, K.Brennan)



If Rod Stewart must cover
other people’s material—and despite my insistence that he should never stop
writing, he IS one of music’s greatest interpreters—he may as well cover Tom
Waits. He struck gold with Waits’ “Downtown Train” and then found killer album
tracks with “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda)” and “Hang on St.
Christopher.”
Drawing from the Waits well again was a great idea. Stewart
performs this solemn hymn with the perfect amount of reverence as his well-worn
voice almost glides across Waits lyrics. His vocals are absolutely gorgeous
covering a song that, due to its repetition of lines, requires just the right
amount of soul, empathy and finesse. Listen to the way Stewart delivers the
“oh yeah” between lines—that my friends, is a singer.
GRADE A

 

Sexual Religion (written by R.Stewart & K.Savigar)

At 68, we know Rod can still get it up for a
concert or great recording, whether he can still get it up anywhere else is
nobody’s business but his and his wife’s and the British press. If we believe
what we hear on Time’s bid for a hit
dance track, then I guess Rod Jr. is doing just fine. I am not sure we really
need hear to Rod sound off on human sexual desires anymore, but at least he does
it better here than he did 30 years ago on “Body Wishes” (“Somebody’s
cherries need picking
.” Ouch. Lines like that could turn one into a sexual
atheist). This time out Stewart even invokes a bit of a S/M to the
proceedings--“How do you do that thing that you do to me/Over and over
again/I’m a helpless disciple in your temple of love/A slave to the pleasure and
pain.”
It’s far from the first time Rod has played the
helpless-to-her-sexual-charms Romeo, but rarely is he this clever on this type
of tune. “And this drug that you’re dealing is powerful stuff/And your
loving is wicked and sometimes rough/You’re a Jezebel of Eden and an angel of
love/And I just can’t work you out.”
Following an opening that recalls
“Heaven” from The Rod Stewart Sessions, “Sexual Religion”
definitely finds the smooth groove needed to inspire those not born with two
left feet to hit the dance floor. It’s a beat that’s found on countless other
dance tracks but Stewart’s voice, smooth background purring by Di Reed, Lucy
Woodward, Kim Johnson and Bridget Cady, and an ultra-cool sax solo by the great
Jimmy Roberts might set it apart from the rest. “Religion” may not make anyone
forget “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” but it is more than a competent entry in
the dance track sweepstakes.
GRADE B

 

Make Love To Me Tonight (written by R.Stewart, C.Kentis, D.Kirkpatrick,
C.Korsch, D.Palmer, P.Warren)

The current members of the band that’s toured
with Stewart for the past 15 years or so get their chance on Time to record with their boss as a group
on a couple tracks and they prove what anyone who has seen them live already
knows—they are a tight, fantastic band. On “Make Love to Me Tonight,” a
country-tinged, swinging jam, they carry Stewart through in winning fashion.
Stewart’s tale of a couple facing a lay-off with a positive outlook is touching,
warm and again, joyous. Maybe it’s easy for a man worth $250 million dollars or
so to remind us that money can’t buy happiness just as a lack of money can’t
eliminate happiness, but Stewart does so here with so much warmth, fun and wit,
we’ll buy whatever he’s selling. “ I would’ve borrowed from the bank/But I
don’t think they’ll listen/Foreclosures are as common as a lying politician/Oh
my little darling, you are the rock on which I stand/You’re my strength and
wisdom/The soul behind the man.”
It’s Stewart playing storyteller again, and
like he’s done so many times before, he’s created a character you can’t help
rooting for, not unlike the narrator himself.
GRADE A

 

Pure Love (written by R.Stewart, K.Savigar)

Despite stalling at number 12 on the U.S.
Billboard chart in the fall of 1988, “Forever Young” is probably Rod
Stewart’s most famous song of the last 25 years. It seems to be everywhere—it
still gets airplay on oldies and 80s stations; people use it on homemade videos
for graduations and birthdays; and Stewart has probably not appeared in concert
in the past quarter century without singing it. It’s a big part of Rod Stewart’s
legend. But as some people know, and as many more do not, “Forever Young”
is a rewrite of a Bob Dylan song. The tune is quite a bit different, but the
structure is nearly the same and the lyrics are similar. Perhaps Stewart wrote
“Pure Love” to have a “Forever Young” all his own. He succeeds
quite nicely. “Pure Love” is a melodic ballad that most parents of adult
children will find quite touching. It is a bit over sentimental and maybe a
touch overwrought but if you can’t get cheesy over your kids for God’s sakes...!
Besides, Rod’s sincere delivery erases any notion that this isn’t coming right
from the gut. The song works best when he’s merely professing love as opposed to
parting wisdom. “I hear your laughter echo through this house/I miss you all,
of this there is no doubt/I wasn’t perfect this I will admit/I was always trying
to make the pieces fit
.” I would have preferred a more clever chorus (ala
“You’re in My Heart”) or no chorus at all—one “You’ll always be…” instead
of three would have worked for me but I’m nitpicking. Lines like “Don’t ask
me now where all the time has gone/I’ve loved you since the minute you were
born/So many times we have laughed and cried/I see you now it fills my heart
with pride
” need nothing more.
GRADE B+

And there ye have it—12 new tracks that  constitute Time, the first
“proper” Rod Stewart album in 15 years. The album lives or dies on the strength
of Stewart’s pen. He’s opened his heart, mind and soul to the public possibly
more than he has in his entire career, and I for one, am grateful. Those looking
for the Faces will be disappointed. Those looking for a thoughtful,
well-crafted, jubilant, moving collection as produced by a 68-year old rock
veteran who still has a few things to share, will love it. I do.
FINAL GRADE: A

 

Time is Rod Stewart’s 29th solo studio album of all new
material (including 1993’s Once in a Blue Moon aka The Lost Album).

Time was produced by Rod Stewart & Kevin Savigar with
additional production by Chuck Kentis & Paul Warren. Engineered and mixed by
Kevin Savigar Additional engineering by Tom Weir at Studio City Sound, Studio
City, CA Recorded at Satinwood Studios, Santa Clarita, CA, Celtic House, Los
Angeles, CA, Sunset Sound Studios, Los Angeles, CA, Echo Beach Studios, Jupiter,
FL and RAK Studios, London, UK Mixed at Satinwood Studios, Santa Clarita, CA
Mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood, CA

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