Kronomyth 3.0: ACADEMIGOD. John Cale had released an album of pop (Vintage Violence) and proto-ambient jazz (Church of Anthrax), so what for an encore but an album of minimalist classical music? In a sense, The Academy In Peril completes the triumvirate of tastes that constitute the complete John Cale experience: genteel, experimental and classical. The classically trained Cale had yet to showcase his formal training on record. In VU, he was the iconoclast alternating between drone and a saw cutting through bone. On Violence, he was an aspiring pop star. On Anthrax, he was a noisemonger. Here, we finally meet the trained classicist, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra no less, starring as both serious composer and silly saboteur, minimalist and sentimentalist. The opening track, “The Philosopher,” sets the tone with the first of many unexpected surprises: minimalist with a side of foot-stompin’ Cajun slide that could best be described as Americana avant garde. “Brahms” is one of several solo piano pieces, here featuring an interesting mix of resonance and dissonance. “Legs Larry at Television Centre” is a brilliant satire of serious classical music, with Legs Larry Smith providing crude director’s commentary for an imagined filming, including several admonishments for the sound crew to mind their boom. “The Academy In Peril” is another piano piece, this time sublime in effect. “Intro/Days of Steam” starts with a wild intro that leads into a lovely childlike mix of unorthodox instruments, an approach that will sound immediately familiar to fans of Penguin Café Orchestra. (Really, you have to wonder if Cale wasn’t the example that E.G. Records patterned itself after, give the affinities to Eno, PCO, Harold Budd, etc.) The “3 Orchestral Pieces,” featuring the RPO, are the album’s classical pedigree, and reveal a keen sense of dark and light imagery. “King Harry” is whispered genius at the edge of reason; Cale would repeat the experience on Paris 1919 with “Antarctica Starts Here.” “John Milton” closes the album with eight minutes of alien beauty that likely had an effect on the later ambient music of Brian Eno. The Academy In Peril rarely tries the same trick twice, and demonstrates a surprisingly rich sonic palette, a point made more manifest when you consider how different it is from the preceding two efforts. More importantly, it reveals that Cale has ever been capable of playing the straight classical card (albeit with plenty of boobytraps), which makes the calculated musical choices that Cale has made up until now even more impressive. If one album can be said to establish once and for all the genius of John Cale, this is it.
Kronomyth 8.0: WOOD ROARIER. Ron Wood wasn’t gathering much moss of late, with three world tours in the last five years: The Gunslingers with Bo Diddley, the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle tour and, captured here, the Slide On Live tour with the Ronnie Wood Band. Slide On Live – Plugged In And Standing (the title is a wink and a nod to Rod Stewart’s Unplugged… And Seated) is the first live disc from Wood to focus on his own career, featuring a handful of songs from his latest release (Slide On This) plus earlier stuff (“I Can Feel The Fire,” “Seven Days”) and material from The Faces (“Stay With Me”) and the Stones (“Pretty Beat Up”). For the tour, Wood enlisted familiar faces Bernard Fowler, Ian McLagan and Wayne Sheehy from the Slide On This sessions plus Johnny Lee Schell (guitar) and Shaun Solomon (bass). Ronnie’s the star of the show, naturally, but smart enough not to rely on his voice all of the time, leaning on Bernard Fowler and, on The Faces’ “Silicon Grown,” Ian McLagan to take the lead vocals. Slide On Live is a nice brisk walk through Wood’s work that never hits a lull or lingers too long at one place. The material from his most recent album (“Testify,” “Josephine,” “Show Me”) is good stuff, arguably better than the Stones’ rock-by-rote records of late. Ronnie had a more reasonable claim to the music of The Faces than the Stones, so it’s not surprising that only one or two Stones tracks made it into the show. (Rod Stewart also performed “Stay With Me” in his Vagabond Heart tour from 1992, but he was no longer the face of The Faces.) Ronnie’s not looking to re-imagine any of these songs on stage, just capture their original appeal and maybe kick up the energy a notch or two. It’s as solid a live record as you could want; Ronnie’s fans clearly got their money’s worth, and for $12-15 so can you. Ronnie (or someone) seemed to think enough of the disc to re-release it in 1997 with a new pair of studio tracks, and issue more performances from the same tour as Live And Eclectic in 2000.
Kronomyth 10.75: INTO THE WOODS. This is the deepest we’ve gone into the Wood yet: a double-disc anthology featuring Ronnie solo material on disc one and his group material on disc two. Even more intriguing is the decision to include four tracks from his earliest and seldom-heard work with The Birds. And then there’s the baffling decision to include as many tracks from the Creation–a band that no one even remembers Wood playing in–as the Rolling Stones, a band that arguably overshadows all of his other work combined. The solo disc is pretty solid and sticks to the singles, although it virtually ignores his highest-charting album, Gimme Some Neck (“Seven Days” is featured here in its live version). The best tracks are those that feature a little help from friends like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, George Harrison and Bob Dylan. It sags in the middle but picks up again on the last few tracks, when Wood returns to rock’s roots for songs like “Whaddya Think” and “You Strum And I’ll Sing.” The second disc (featuring group material) takes a while to heat up, but it finally does when the Jeff Beck cuts roll around and never cools down again. Wood had the good fortune to work with some great vocalists (Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger) and the iron balls to play alongside some great guitarists (Jeff Beck, Keith Richards). I can appreciate the fact that The Essential Crossexion looks to shake his image as the Stones’ third second guitarist by heavily favoring his work with Rod and The Faces, but what emerges here is a journeyman guitarist whose solo career never took off. And maybe that is Ronnie Wood’s story: always in the right place at the right time but slightly left of center stage. These songs don’t tell the whole story, or even the more interesting parts of the story, but I’ll give Virgin a nod and a wink for dreaming up the idea in the first place.
The ladies tend to go for singers and lead guitarists, but don’t tell that to Ron Wood. For the better part of four decades, the man has scored his share while shining in the shadow of some of rock’s biggest stars: Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards. Along the way, Ron (or Ronnie, depending) has released about a dozen studio and live albums with various high-profile guests, featuring an eclectic mix of rock songs and a serviceable if somewhat raspy voice that suggests The Faces, Rod Stewart or The Rolling Stones on a more modest scale.
His first solo album, I’ve Got My Own Album To Do (1974), was something of a screen test for the Stones, with cameos from Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Mick Taylor. Wood’s second solo album, Now Look (1975), featured fewer stars and included some leftover tracks from the first album. Gimme Some Neck (1979), released after Wood was established in the Stones, became his highest-charting record and featured all of his current bandmates (and Taylor) with the exception of Bill Wyman. For the supporting tour, Wood formed The New Barbarians with bassist Stanley Clarke. 1 2 3 4 (1981) went largely ignored, however, and Wood didn’t release another solo album for more than a decade.
Although his solo albums in the 90s and onward haven been infrequent, they’re quite good. In 2010, he released a new album, I Feel Like Playing, which featured contributions from Slash, Billy Gibbons and Flea. In addition to music, Ronnie the renaissance man has released several volumes of artwork, proving that he can draw a crowd in more ways than one.