Unsurpassed Masters / Rough Mixes (Audiofon AF19)
(59:30): Till The Rivers All Run Dry, Heart to Hang Onto (backing track), Heart to Hang Onto, Nowhere to Run, Hear Me Clearly (instrumental), Misunderstood (backing track), Misunderstood, Keep Me Turning (backing track), Keep Me Turning, Silly Little Man #1, Silly Little Man #2, My Baby Gives It Away, Catmelody, April Fool, Street in the City, Till The Rivers All Run Dry
Recorded during a sabbatical within The Who and during a lull in both Ronnie & Pete’s respective careers – Pete having finished his final Who tour before Keith Moon’s premature demise and Ronnie on his uppers after Slim Chance had folded, the couple of rehearsals that he had attended with the newly reformed Small Faces having faltered – the two erstwhile drinking buddies finally sobered up enough to realise that they could use this time to record together and that they both knew enough people within the pantheon of rock to call upon if they needed help with these sessions.
Leaving behind his amps, feedback & sprawling, balls out rock that had filtered throughout his recording career thus Pete set about writing his calmest set of tracks for a good long time creating a relaxed, adult, warm atmosphere together with the rakish charm of Ronnie’s heart warming, exuberant sing alongs.
Indeed it’s believed that Ronnie may have been the catalyst that roped in the bucolic rumble of Pete’s usual fare (although this also came about during Pete’s heavy drinking phase where he was accustomed to waking up in garbage skips such was the ferocity of his boozing) and Pete may have turned a little more introspective as a result. The album that was released is a switch between moodily introverted (a la Jackson Browne’s “Late For The Sky”) to part bar room stomp – the feeling of a boisterous night in rubs shoulders with a set of songs that are akin to a red eyed, breathless morning.
The two protagonists’ voices shine through in their own lyrics most prominently (Via Ronnie’s “Jonny Boy propping up the bar” in Heart To Hang On To to Pete’s line about “The Cambridge Raper” in Street In The City.) This disk features lost outtakes, extra studio chatter and early unpolished versions of the tracks that would appear on the album in wonderful, studio soundboard clarity. Listening to “Street In The City” you can hear Pete press against the microphone with a lewd intensity. Unfortunately the album was given next to no promotion on release and despite becoming Rolling Stone magazines album of the year only sold moderately well but is still acclaimed as a warm favorite to those that heard it.
The mood and feel of the album is set perfectly from the leading track, “Till The Rivers All Run Dry”. A down home county tinged track – Or imagine Britain’s version of a country track – that spins on an axis of world weary harmonies, delicately strummed guitars and a skiffleish bass line. The piano in the background recalls John Cale’s work on Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter and would prove to be one of the only real duets on the album proper. The harmonies on this version lighter and less deep than the finished article.
It’s also missing some of the guitar parts that were added on its later version. “Heart To Hang On To” is very obviously a Townshend track from the start, the peal of the acoustic guitar sound having a resounding Who style along with the later chug of the electric guitar and the drum patterns forming an almost acoustic rejoinder to a missing “Tommy” era track. In it’s first incarnation of instrumental track only it brings out various parts that are smoothed over by the vocals but is without the rockier guitar work that Pete would bring to the table as the track progressed in style.
“Nowhere To Run” is preceded by laughter and then a countdown from Lane in to another country flavoured stomp featuring banjo and harmonica. A breezy fireside nod-along thats part Small Faces, part Byrds. “Hear Me Clearly” is an instrumental that seems to come from a wedding or a cruise ship – bouyed along by tough drumming lines and a cool little organ line. It sounds nothing like Townshend’s previous work so was possible conceived as an after thought jam to become a song proper but never quite made the grade.
“Misunderstood” is a typical Townshend style song – a gulping thud for percussion, strummed guitar lines of the style that only Pete seems to be able to conceive and a crazy, bluesy harmonica thrown in the mix. The lyrics are the vinegary, testy Townshend affair that would seem to be autobiographical – again, introspective and concerned but with the briefest hint of bravado and knowingness. The backing track loses nothing but the lyrics and the harmonies “Keep Me Turning” is Townshend by numbers – grand of chorus & full of beatific guitar lines this may be a show of the closest that Pete gets to his bands histronics on this album. The Backing track on the disk also features vocals but these are ever so slightly lower in the mix as not to make any difference at all and are missing a few metered guitar licks & stereo panning effects.
“Silly Little Man” didn’t appear on the original version of the album but was included on the 2006 remaster – A Lane composition and another bar-room boogie it appears here with 2 versions. Lane’s vocal is almost buried by the rest of the instrumentation but the lyrics don’t seem to warrant much speculation anyway. The second version of the track – recorded 4 months later – fixes this a little by bringing the vocals up slightly but also adds saxaphone to the blend to enhance the feel of the track but it cuts off before it’s natural end – evidently for the fact that they knew it wouldn’t appear on the finished cut.
“My Baby Gives It Away” is a speedballing, Townshend track with a brilliant backhanded – compliment lyric. Charlie Watts accompanies with a rock solid and thunderous back beat that, while it’s not Moon-esque it swings in all the right places and is discreet enough to drive the track along without interference.
“Cat Melodian”, ‘Cat Melody’ but renamed as originally written on the tape box- an uptight, horn riding boogie woogie by Lane. One of the albums stronger tracks and the second to featlure Charlie Watts and his old band member, Ian Stewart, on a great rag time piano. “April Fool” featuring Dobro by Eric Clapton glides along lythely in a fine ‘Faces fashion. Lanes voice is reminiscent of Rod Stewards at times but with out the scurl and throat of the big haired rocker. It’s yet another delicate moment to the album & sounds like one of the better ‘comedown’ moments.
“Street In The City” the big single from the album & rightly so – adorned by busy strings and featuring some of Townshend’s best waspish lyrics about falling window cleaners, outmoded hair styles & falling knickers. It’s a deep, louche track with hints of the blues experimentation that Pete would fall in to when playing the Who’s “My Generation” out live until Townshend recalls for breath, throws in a Spanish styled guitar only to race towards the frantic end. It all flows together like a slightly skewed – birds eye view of a normal British town, anywhere at anytime.
The final “Till The Rivers All Run Dry” bookends the collection perfectly. Recorded 3 months after it’s original counterpart it begins with garbled studio chatter, laughter then runs through pretty much the same way but with a deeper harmony line than the first version, more harmonies that run throughout the solo and more electric guitar overdubs. Perhaps the sweetest thing is Audiofon have elected to leave in the abrupt end to the track & even the sound of the tape ending as we run to the end of the reel. It gives the recording an authentic feel like you’re in the studio actually listening to the rushes of the day.
The covers are rather splendid – featuring the original, unadorned U.K. sleeve featuring various vintage cigarette cards of the kind that might be framed & displayed in a local hostelry. With Audiofon’s newly used casual font adorning the track listing on the back along with the familial picture of Pete & Ronnie sat back to back on a tree stump – this also appears in a larger size in the case back. Liner notes are amended & uncredited from the excellent Lostgrooves blog adding a small addendum at the end for the specific details of this disk. The only gripe would be the spelling of the ‘Stones drummers name – Who is ‘Charly Watts’?
This is an wonderful addition to the album & as it was a relative one off ( not counting the Meher Baba private pressings ) then highlights the working of this tight, musical friendship and as Audiofon have used the master tapes for this release – there really is no better sound.
It is a shame Rough Mix has lapsed into relative obscurity. I never heard of it until Audiofon released this title. I bought the official release on Hip-O and have been listening to it obsessively. Unsurpassed Masters offers interesting rough mixes of the tracks and is a nice companion.