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Al Stewart

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Al Stewart - Past, Present And Future [Janus JLS 3063] (1974)

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Artist:

Al Stewart

Title:

Past, Present And Future

Released: 1974
Label: Janus
Catalog: JLS 3063
Genre: Folk Rock
T R A C K L I S T:
01 Old Admirals
02 Warren Harding
03 Soho (Needless To Say)
04 The Last Day Of June 1934
05 Post World War Two Blues
06 Roads To Moscow
07 Terminal Eyes
08 Nostradamus
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Album Review

Stephen Thomas Erlewine [allmusic.com]

As good as portions of it were, Orange was essentially a transitional effort, the necessary bridge to Past, Present & Future, the record where Al Stewart truly begins to discover his voice. This is largely through his decision to indulge his fascination with history and construct a concept album that begins with "Old Admirals" and ends with "Nostradamus" and his predictions for the future. A concept like this undoubtedly will strike prog warning bells in the minds of most listeners but, ironically, he has stripped back most of the prog trappings from Orange, settling into a haunting folk bed for these long, winding tales. If anything, this results in an album that is a bit too subdued, but even so, it's apparent that Stewart has finally found his muse, focusing his songwriting and intent to a greater extent than ever before. Now, the key was to find the same sense of purpose in record-making -- he didn't quite get it here, but he would the next time around.


Al Stewart - Year Of The Cat [Janus JXS-7022] (1976)

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Artist:

Al Stewart

Title:

Year Of The Cat

Released: 1976
Label: Janus
Catalog: JXS-7022
Genre: Rock


T R A C K L I S T:
01 Lord Grenville
02 On The Border
03 Midas Shadow
04 Sand In Your Shoes
05 If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It
06 Flying Sorcery
07 Broadway Hotel
08 One Stage Before
09 Year Of The Cat
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Album Review

Year of the Cat is the seventh studio album by Al Stewart, released in 1976 and was produced and engineered by Alan Parsons; it is considered his masterpiece, its sales helped by the hit single ''Year of the Cat'', ''one of those 'mysterious woman' songs,'' co-written by Peter Wood. The other single from the album was ''On the Border''. Stewart wrote ''Lord Grenville'' about the Elizabethan sailor and explorer Sir Richard Grenville (1542-1591).

Stewart had all of the music and orchestration written and completely recorded before he even had a title for any of the songs. In a Canadian radio interview he stated that he has done this for six of his albums, and he often writes four different sets of lyrics for each song. The title track derives from a song Stewart wrote in 1966 called ''Foot of the Stage'' with prescient lyrics about Tony Hancock, one of Britain's favourite comedians who tragically committed suicide two years later. When Stewart discovered that Hancock was not well known in the United States, he went back to his original title ''Year of the Cat''.

While Stewart is known for his guitar virtuosity, the song is recognized for producing amazing interplay of multiple guitars, piano, saxophone, violin and drums. [wikipedia.org]


Al Stewart - The Early Years [Janus Records 2JXS-7026] (1977)

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Artist:

Al Stewart

Title:

The Early Years

Released: 1977
Label: Janus Records
Catalog: 2JXS-7026
Genre: Folk Rock
NOTE: 2 LPs on 2 CDs
T R A C K L I S T:
Disc1
01 Bedsitter Images
02 You Don't Even Know Me
03 I'm Falling
04 A Small Fruit Song
05 The News From Spain
06 Electric Los Angeles Sunset
07 Denise At 16
08 Manuscript
09 Clifton In The Rain
10 Nights Of The 4th Of May

Disc 2
01 In Brooklyn
02 Old Compton Street Blues
03 The Ballad Of Mary Foster
04 Life And Life Only
05 You Should Have Listened To Al
06 Love Chronicles
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Al Stewart - Time Passages [Arista AB-4190] (1978)

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Artist:

Al Stewart

Title:

Time Passages

Released: 1978
Label: Arista
Catalog: AB-4190
Genre: Rock


T R A C K L I S T:
01 Time Passages
02 Valentina Way
03 Life In Dark Water
04 A Man For All Seasons
05 Almost Lucy
06 The Palace Of Versailles
07 Timeless Skies
08 Song On The Radio
09 End Of The Day
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Album Review

Time Passages was the third of Al Stewart's popular late seventies albums, following Modern Times in 1975 and Year of the Cat in 1976. While all three of these albums were produced by Alan Parsons, on this one there is a minor nod towards soft rock production. Musically, Time Passages continues Stewart’s traditional blend of folk, jazz, and pop/rock, with masterful arrangements, rich sonic textures, and the top-notch production of Parsons. Lyrically, Stewart alternates between the contemporary subjects and concerns of baby boomers reaching their thirties and his distinct knack for presenting historical figures an events in graceful yet easily accessible pop song epics. [classicrockreview.com]


Al Stewart And Shot In The Dark - 24 Carrots [Arista AL 9520] (20 August 1980)

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Artist:

Al Stewart And Shot In The Dark

Title:

24 Carrots

Released: 20 August 1980
Label: Arista
Catalog: AL 9520
Genre: Rock, Folk-Rock


T R A C K L I S T:
01 Running Man
02 Midnight Rocks
03 Constantinople
04 Merlin's Time
05 Mondo Sinistro
06 Murmansk Run / Ellis Island
07 Rocks In The Ocean
08 Paint By Numbers
09 Optical Illusion
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Album Review

Stephen Thomas Erlewine [allmusic.com]

The pun of the title of 24 Carrots -- the first overt signal of humor Al Stewart has displayed in years, possibly ever -- illustrates that a lot has changed since 1978's Time Passages. The loosening of his wit is perhaps the most evident, but the most significant is the departure of producer Alan Parsons, who collaborated with Stewart on his mid-'70s triptych of masterpieces. In truth, 24 Carrots isn't far removed from those high points, because he is indeed still writing at a remarkably consistent pace. No, this record isn't quite at the high standard of the previous three albums, but it does have a number of brilliant moments, from the opening ''Running Man'' through the silly but effective ''Mondo Sinistro'' and the gorgeous ''Midnight Rocks.'' Though there are some songs that don't quite click (something that did not happen on the aforementioned trio), overall the record coheres nicely, thanks not just to the uniform classiness of Stewart's songs, but to his production with Chris Desmond. Although the production does hint at the antiseptic cleanliness that sank many of his latter-day recordings, here, it is just a perfect balance of audio precision and elegant studiocraft. Despite its occasional missteps, it still is a fine record, a fitting, wistful coda to Stewart's classic period.

Al Stewart's Biography

Bruce Eder [allmusic.com]

Scottish singer/songwriter Al Stewart has been an amazingly prolific and successful musician across 50 years, working in a dizzying array of stylistic modes and musical genres -- in other words, he's had a real career, and has done it without concerning himself too much about trends and the public taste. He's been influenced by several notables, to be sure, including his fellow Scot (and slightly younger contemporary) Donovan, as well as Ralph McTell, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon -- but apart from a passing resemblance to Donovan vocally, he doesn't sound quite like anyone else, and has achieved his greatest success across four decades with songs that are uniquely his and impossible to mistake.

Stewart was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1945, and was swept up a decade later in the skiffle boom that took young Britons by storm -- he decided to take up guitar after hearing Lonnie Donegan's music. By the early '60s, his family was living in Bournemouth, and he joined a local band, the Trappers, in 1963, and was already writing songs by that time. He was an admirer of the Beatles as their fame swept out of Liverpool and across the country, and even managed once to get backstage to meet John Lennon and play a few notes for him, at one of their Bournemouth performances. He studied guitar with Robert Fripp, no less, and later played keyboards in a band called Dave La Caz & the G Men, who managed to open for the Rolling Stones at the outset of the latter's career in 1963. A true milestone for Stewart took place when Dave La Caz & the G Men recorded one of his songs, "When She Smiled," in early 1964.

It was around this time that Stewart discovered the music of Bob Dylan, who was in the midst of his "protest" song phase -- what he referred to as his finger-pointing songs. The mix of topicality, folk melodies, and the growing prominence of rock instrumentation that he heard in Dylan's music inspired Stewart, who was now prepared to devote as much energy to composition as he had to performing. He went so far as to cut a demo single of Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" backed with one of his originals, entitled "The Sky Will Fall Down." Though nothing came of it directly, the demo and the song, and the tenor of the times, inspired Stewart to head to London in search of success. He failed to interest anyone in recording him or his topical song "Child of the Bomb" -- the "Ban the [H] Bomb" movement in England being a hugely popular and urgent cause at the time -- and retreated to performing for a time, as part of the burgeoning London folk scene, which was already home to such figures as Davy Graham, Martin Carthy, and Isla Cameron. He fell in with some of the younger figures on the scene, playing shows with Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell, and Sandy Denny, and also shared living quarters for a time with a visiting American named Paul Simon, from New York, who had already recorded an album, as well as numerous singles with a partner, and was immersing himself in the English folk scene.

His friendship with Simon led to Stewart's first gig as a session musician on record, playing guitar on the song "Yellow Walls" from Jackson C. Frank's album Blues Run the Game, which Simon produced. By this time, Stewart had also appeared on the BBC, and was playing better gigs and starting to be noticed. Finally, in 1966, he was signed to Decca Records to cut a single featuring an original of his, "The Elf," on the A-side (the B-side, oddly enough, was his rendition of the recent Yardbirds LP cut "Turn into Earth" -- even more curiously, in terms of coincidence, future Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page was one of the players on those sessions). Stewart's single was not a success, though the composition has the distinction of being one of the earlier -- if not the earliest -- pop songs inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Stewart was undaunted, and he remained part of the thriving London music scene, and his efforts paid off in 1967 when CBS Records, the U.K. division of Columbia Records in America (which couldn't use the "Columbia" name in England, as it was the property of a division of EMI) signed him to record his debut album, Bedsitter Images. The latter was a superb showcase for Stewart's songwriting, but not for the sound he visualized for his music -- heavily orchestrated and, in his eyes, grotesquely over-produced, he felt his voice and even his songs were lost amid the densely layered accompaniments. But the record generated a massive amount of publicity for him, and put Al Stewart on the pop music map as a contender, and someone worth watching and hearing.

By then, he was known to the music journals, and at his performances he could show off his songs his way (and one of his shows in 1968 featured accompaniment by no less than his former teacher Robert Fripp and several others who would figure large in a group called King Crimson a year or so later). In 1969 came a second album, Love Chronicles, whose epic title track broke ground among respectable recordings for its use of language (a colloquial term for intercourse) as well as running-time barriers, and included Fairport Convention among the backing musicians. Stewart's writing had already showing a remarkable degree of growth from what were hardly modest beginnings, at least in terms of ambition -- his songs were increasingly coming across as something akin to "sung" paintings, mixing topicality, a command of detail and imagery, and distinctive use of language. But with Zero She Flies he took a major step forward with the song "Manuscript," which was his first to draw extensively from history, and also to incorporate sea images. These were elements that would all manifest themselves ever more strongly in his work across the decades to come. Following the release of Orange in 1972, he would turn away from the deeply personal songs and devote an increasing part of his music to sources out of history, plunging into such subject matter in the first person, as almost a musical precursor to Quantum Leap.

Stewart made the leap in October of 1973 with the release of Past, Present and Future, an LP's worth of songs that would explore past lives (and the future by way of the past, on "Nostradamus"). The latter song and "Roads to Moscow" also gave him his first major exposure in America, where FM and college radio stations quickly picked up on both songs. Suddenly, from being all but unknown on the far side of the Atlantic, Stewart had a serious cult following on American college campuses, especially in the Northeast (where New York's WNEW-FM radio gave all of Past, Present and Future, and especially the two songs in question, lots of airplay). He followed this up in the fall of 1974 with Modern Times, produced by Alan Parsons, which was thick with contemporary, historical, and literary references.

It would be a full year before his next album showed up, but when it did, that record completely altered the landscape under Stewart's feet, and far beyond as well. Year of the Cat (1975) turned Al Stewart from an artist with a wide cult following at America's colleges into a fixture on AM radio, the title song rising into the Top Ten in the U.S. and, ultimately, around most of the world. In the United States, in an effort to capitalize on his sudden fame -- as not only "Year of the Cat" but "On the Border" also charted high -- a double album of tracks from his four prior British LPs was issued. And in the fall of 1978, Time Passages, his newest album, was released to great success, including a Top Ten single for the title track. A year of touring to huge audiences around the world followed, all of it very strange when one considers how far removed from the dominant late-'70s sounds of punk, disco, and new wave Stewart's music was. In the summer of 1980 came his next album, 24 Carrots, but neither it nor any of the singles pulled from it were ever able to repeat the success of those three prior LPs or their accompanying 45s. Indian Summer (1981), a mixed live and studio album, also failed to perform up to expectations.

Stewart, who had been a mainstay of Arista Records in America for the last three years of the 1970s, was dropped by that label soon after Indian Summer's release. He didn't disappear, however, either on record or in concert, and continued to tour and record. The much more overtly political album Russians & Americans (1984) and the lighter Last Days of the Century (1988) kept his name out there, and he also recorded another concert album, the all-acoustic Rhymes in Rooms (1992). And in an increasingly rare sort of gesture, in 1993 he released Famous Last Words, and album dedicated to the late Peter Wood, who had co-written "Year of the Cat." He also continued to explore history in song with Between the Wars (1995), which dealt with events between 1918 and 1939. Stewart's 21st century recordings include A Beach Full of Shells (2005) and Sparks of Ancient Light (2008). When he isn't recording or touring, he keeps busy with his hobby of collecting fine, rare wines. His post-1980 work is less easy to find than compilations of his hits from the mid- to late '70s, which are downright ubiquitous, and in 2007 his British CBS albums were released on CD in America through Collectors' Choice. Stewart was also given the comprehensive box set treatment by EMI in 2005 with the five-CD set Just Yesterday.
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