The Great American Songbook
Volume III: Stardust
J Records 2004
You all heard read my ranting about Stewart’s first 2 volumes of this series, and I’m sure you know that I’ve been lurking here with my tongue lolling waiting for Volume III. Well, joy and rapture, it arrived in today’s mail. Thanks to J Records for remembering me and getting it here so quickly. I usually play a new CD and start writing about it immediately but this one stopped me dead. I had to listen to the whole thing before I could even type the title.
Track one (“Embraceable You” by Gershwin & Gershwin) gave me brief pause. I wasn’t sure I was enjoying it. Then I remembered that I had the same reaction to Volume I. I think it’s me still trying to wrap my brain around Rod Stewart singing the standards and the fact that what I’ve dreamed of lo these 34 years is actually a reality. I should point out that I am enjoying it—again. It’s on right now (for the second time) and I’ll run it yet again shortly because we’re on the last track, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (Maschwitz & Sherwin)—Stewart tips his hat to his birthplace, even though the CD is dedicated to the Tartan Army—and I can’t write this review without the music tickling my fingers.
Lets have a brief recap: Volume I was Stewart, solo; Volume II was Stewart with Queen Latifah and Cher; Volume III is—hang on to your hats—Eric Clapton, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Arturo Sandoval and Dolly Parton. Oh! And Rod Stewart.
The track list on Stardust, (which doesn’t include “Miss Otis Regrets”—damn it) is a joyful compilation of my favorite songs. I’m not kidding. They shot the moon on this one. Standouts include “What a Wonderful World” (Weiss & Thiele) with Little Stevie on Harmonica and “Blue Moon” (Rodgers & Hart) with Clapton’s guitar solo. (I’d like to say something nice about Jeff Beck here but Clapton has so out-classed him, it’s not funny.) And let me not neglect to mention the production of “Stardust” (Carmichael & Parish—written in Bloomington, IN at Kilroy’s Bar & Grill on Kirkwood Avenue—I think the piano’s still there, too—it was in 1996 anyway) by Richard Perry and Clive Davis who also produced “Night and Day.”* Nice work gentlemen, very pretty.
Now don’t think the ladies aren’t worth a mention. I loved the duet on Volume II with Queen Latifah and am scrambling to get my hands on her new album of standards, but Bette Midler can do whatever she wants as far as I’m concerned: she and Rod on “I’ll Take Manhattan” (Rodgers & Hart) blend like old souls; lovely. Dolly Parton has long been someone taking up space on my music shelves and she and our lad are having far too much fun with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (Frank Loesser). But the best, the absolute best for me is “I Can’t Get Started” (Duke & Gershwin) because of the new lyrics. “I’ve been consulted by Hillary C, and Tina Turner’s had me to tea,” among others. Love it. And the Gershwin classic “But Not For Me” has a little something new as well.
A word about Bob Mann who arranged and conducted most of the numbers on this little treasure; he lends his guitar to almost every track and does it with a lover’s touch. As usual, Stewart and company have assembled the best of the best to back up that unique voice and make this old romantic squirm with delight. Wonderful, fabulous, yes I’m a fan but also a complete bitch where the standards are concerned and Rod is trespassing on my private passion so take it for what it’s worth. You require Volume III.
Ah well, here I go back to the title track “Stardust,” it’s a beauty as is “Berkeley Square.” Willie Nelson did “Stardust” and stole my heart away. I honestly didn’t think anyone would sing it again with that passion. Well, I should have known.
For a few decades now, I’ve enjoyed and been amused by the personal comments from Rod Stewart on his liner notes and these are no exception. Yes Rod, Penny’s legs are exceptional (see the front cover); and if her heart is half as wonderful as you claim, then God bless you both. But I’d like a word.
I’ve read a lot of interviews with you over the last year or so and you’re often quoted as saying you feel like "a traitor to rock ‘n roll." I take exception to this my love. You’re not a traitor, you’re simply pointing out that rock ‘n roll is and always has been music in the classic tradition. The sound of the times. Singers are singers, no matter the style. When the talent is there, the lyrics thrill the soul whether rock, blues, soul, Tin Pan Alley or what-have-you. Look at the disparity in genre that you have working with you on this album for God’s sake. Traitor me lily-white arse: you’re no longer a rock ‘n roll icon Mr. Stewart, you’re rock ‘n roll’s hero—you’ve made everyone else sit up and listen—long may you wave.
*All other tracks produced by Steve Tyrell and Clive Davis.
Photos from Volume III are by: Andrew Macpherson and Penny Lancaster
But they didn't say who took what so... *sigh*