Occasionally, when writing a music review, I have a strong hunch that some readers will be so excited to discover something’s been released that my review is almost superfluous—just knowing the record exists will send them to the record store (or online, as the case may be). That’s how I feel about the two Rod Stewart LPs coming out on Mobile Fidelity’s new Silver Label Vinyl Series. If you were going to pick two back-to-back Rod records to give the audiophile vinyl treatment, I’m not sure you could do better than Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells a Story. Before he jumped on all the wrong 1970s and 1980s bandwagons, there was Rod Stewart in all his glory. We can squabble about whether certain records demand a reassessment—artistically a previous MFSL Rod Stewart reissue, Blondes Have More Fun, certainly falls far short of his earlier work, for instance—but these two new LP reissues breathe the most rarefied of air.
Both albums belong to a period when Rod Stewart lived a double life. Faces was known for its loose and scrappy approach and received more praise after they folded than before. On Rod’s solo albums band members were more likely to break out acoustic guitars and mandolins to play music that was never going to sound overly pretty because—well, think of the singer. Rod’s solo work might have also have been overlooked initially were it not for “Maggie May” from Every Picture Tells a Story. Because of that song, Every Picture outsold Gasoline Alley many times over, yet these LPs are very much of a piece, covering the same ground in similar ways. Both include gospel, folk, blues, soul, covers of lesser-known Dylan songs— just about anything rootsy his crew would play in a way that managed to sound both off-the-cuff and solid.
There’s no question the MoFi versions of these LPs have greater clarity than the originals—in fact, the difference is quite pronounced. On both albums the cross- stitching of acoustic guitars and mandolins is revealed in all its intricacy, and the bass lines are much more distinct.
This is not to say that the MoFis are the final word, however. During back- to-back playbacks of the title track to Every Picture, a friend and I nearly fell out of our seats when round two—the original pressing—came roaring out of the speakers with a life that original early 1970s rock pressings sometimes have in spades, not because they’re audiophile but because (partially) engineers knew enough to boost the volume levels in order to help obfuscate recording flaws. Listening to the MoFi recordings is closer to hearing the music from behind glass— but that ain’t all bad. By itself, the detail in Dylan’s “Only a Hobo” and “Tomorrow is Such a Long Time” was enough to convince me that revisiting these classics was worth all the fuss.
So which version should you own? To some extent that depends on your preferences. Me, I want both. On Saturday nights I can relive my rowdy youth with the originals, and on Sunday mornings the MoFis can give me a clearer picture of what made this music click. Early Rod Stewart always had a rough-cut quality, but as the MoFi recordings reveal more than the originals, there was also a high level of artistry underneath the surface.