Now Spinning: The Best Of Rod Stewart

A Rod Stewart compilation in the dollar bin might not catch your eye, but that would be quite the mistake here – as this, and the following Vol. II, are low-key two of the better damn rock and roll compilations out there. If you’ve made your way to this site, you’re probably well aware that the ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ singer and crooner for drunken old women also used to cook up some of the tastiest boozy rock music of the 1970’s, both with The Faces, and during a solo career that started with a string of six nearly perfect albums, rivaling the best studio runs put together by anyone. For both the more casual fan and those deeply familiar with copies of all the original LPs, this one is a bargain thrill and well worth your time.

When I say a run of ‘nearly perfect albums’, I really just have one complaint – the sound quality, on at least a couple of those six classics, kind of sucks. It varies a bit album to album – the Every Picture Tells A Story original pressing is fantastic, A Night On The Town is dreadful – but these aren’t audiophile records and aren’t meant to be, as the delightfully ragged rock and roll Stewart was singing benefited from a loose, no-frills approach. Having said that, a couple of them are simply pretty rough, and this compilation, remastered at Masterdisk by the highly regarded engineer Gilbert Kong, is a fairly shocking improvement. Appropriately, the fantastic original pressing of Every Picture Tells A Story I mentioned above was also mastered by Kong, and he comes mighty close to elevating material from Stewart’s other albums to that sound quality level here.

Most notaby, Stewart’s voice is out front and center far more, rather than buried behind a mess of muddled instrumentation. The guitars, and particularly Ian McLagan’s keys, are warm and clear, the bass is positively explosive, and the drums, which sound like a congested mess on the original LPs, are suddenly sharp and propulsive, with Stewart’s voice louder, centered and leading the charge. As it should be – he really was one of the great rock singers of the era, and that seems to be emphasized more with this mastering, along with general clarity. ‘Street Fighting Man’, a near-disaster from the sound quality perspective on my original pressing, comes to life here with all the sleaze and sneer of The Rolling Stones original, with added instrumental jams now sounding electrifying, rather than a murky mess. ‘Gasoline Alley’ shows off a little extra texture in Stewart’s voice, and sparkles with the soaring slide guitar and mandolin captured with a new clarity and warmth. With the exception of an unnecessary at best cover of The Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard’ from the Tommy Soundtrack, the music, which finds Stewart largely supported by his compadres from The Faces, is top notch throughout, and represented with improved clarity and instrumental separation.

While I still recommend the studio albums as essential, this double LP compilation, especially if combined with the double LP Vol. II, provides a more than healthy overview in surprising sound quality. I wouldn’t go as far to categorize anything here as audiophile, but I do find the mastering on this release to be an overall rejuvenating improvement across the board, and highly recommend the pair for the bargain dollar bin price they usually sell for.

Turntable: Dual 1225
Cartridge/Stylus: Empire 2000E w/ Aftermarket Elliptical
Amplifier: Realistic STA-90
Speakers: EPI M50

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