Ronnie Wood is no one’s favourite Rolling Stone – his time in the band hasn’t exactly been their best period. He has the looks of a lecherous old man and is a vaguely average guitarist. And then there is his ‘art’, which he claims is ‘a great outlet, like my music’. It is not so great, to understate the matter.
So you might have gathered I’m not Ron’s biggest fan. This is a man with modest talent who gained fame and riches by hanging around in the right places and having an attitude towards living it up that chimed well with the likes of the Stones and Rod Stewart. It was going to take a lot for me to be impressed by this anthology, but somehow I was.
Not his solo stuff mind. Most of it is as dreadful as you might think – such as his attempts at ska-reggae on I Can Feel The Fire. A collaboration with George Clinton on Testify doesn’t lift proceedings. Unsurprisingly, the best tracks on this first disc are those that Wood did not write on his own. Far East Man, a co-write with George Harrison is the standout of this first disc. The self-written notes to Seven Days, his version of Bob Dylan‘s 1976 tune, claim that ‘Bob is a good friend’. Really? Dylan friends with Ronnie Wood? That’s a dinner party I gotta see. It would be no contest.
The solo material here is nothing if not comprehensive, taking us from his 1971 debut I’ve Got My Own Album To Do to his ’90s work with vocalist Bernard Fowler. This should be bypassed in favour of disc two, which is a startling delight.
Wood began his career in the ’60s with London band The Birds – a rough and ready R&B group in a similar vein to the Yardbirds, and owing a big debt to Bo Diddley. You’re On My Mind and How Can It Be are unheralded classics, while there is a an irresistible swagger to The Jeff Beck Group, whose I Ain’t Superstitious is an earthy grind that makes you think perhaps Ronnie isn’t such a bad thing. Then comes his work with The Faces and Rod Stewart. The Faces were a great knees-up band, fuelled by booze and sex. Included here is Gasoline Alley, a superb Wood-Stewart composition that rivals Maggie May as the pair’s finest moment. The wonderful Stay With Me maintains the second disc’s quality, before it peters out with a couple of Wood-era Rolling Stones tracks.
I must admit, that when this review was up for grabs, I misread it thinking it was a Ronnie Lane anthology (that would have been awesome). So when Ronnie Wood came through the letterbox I was slightly disappointed – a gloom escalated by the solo material that’s included here. But his work in bands is mostly very good, and a pleasant surprise on this collection. He warrants his prestige, to an extent.