I discovered Al Stewart long ago as he stepped from his purer folk days into soft progrock amid a perennial wont to slip modern twists into both idioms. That turning point LP was the famous Past, Present, and Future, which accounted for his second period of celebrity. He'd already been known for several releases, one of which included Jimmy Page, then gained a substantially increased following with Past, later skyrocketing with Year of the Cat, thereafter unwarrantedly slowly subsiding in mass consumer favor amid a catalogue of truly excellent albums with superb backing ensembles like Shot in the Dark and others.
Uncorked is the latest in a very satisfying string of intermittent live releases, none of which gets in the way of the other, all of them illuminating and enhancing past repertoire. From the very start, in Last Days of the Century / Constantinople / Last Days, he demonstrates that his acumen is, if anything, even sharper than before. The whirlwind guitar passages and his never less than polished vocals are wondrous, not a minute lost in all the years. Be happily warned, too, that he and Nachmanoff purposely avoided reduplicating any cuts from the last live slab, Rhymes in Rooms, which means a number of more familiar hits are dropped, though you'll never even notice.
History has always been a preoccupation with Al, and you get plenty of that here, tales of the glory and foibles of man set to sparkling melodies and warm poetry, as well as an energetic recital of one of my favorites, Running Man, flowing into the stately and elegiac Palace of Versailles. When the entire record plays out, though, you realize that this guy and Donovan are quite similar, still vibrant, and never really came into what they really deserved, even despite altitudes to which they climbed, as both should to this day be huge icons in the present tense. A shame, that, but the music business is fickle and lately tends to reward for insipidity rather than the feast encountered here.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles