The elfin bassist/vocalist/songwriter Ronnie Lane often operated in the shadow of a bigger, more boisterous personality (Steve Mariott in the Small Faces, Rod Stewart in the Faces), but his work in both those bands and as a solo artist was that of an almost mystically good-natured and warm musician. Whether delivering rollicking rock & roll, digging into various folk traditions, or telling rambling tales in his slightly worn, always heart-felt voice, Lane crafted music that will stand the test of time as well as any made by the Small Faces, the Faces, or Rod Stewart. Just for a Moment: Music 1973-1997 is a post-Faces career-spanning box set that cements Lane's status as one of the great songwriters of the '70s and is a treat for anyone who loves the era when country, rock, folk, and soul got all jumbled up in an organically laid-back fashion. It collects the four studio albums cut under his name and with his band Slim Chance (1974's Anymore for Anymore, 1975's Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, 1976's One for the Road, and 1980's See Me) along with songs recorded with Pete Townshend for 1977's Rough Mix record, numerous BBC sessions, previously unreleased demos, singles, live cuts, and a disc of songs recorded near the end of his too-brief life when he relocated to the U.S. in search of a cure for the MS that afflicted him. The studio albums are all wonderful and full of examples of his shaggy-dog storytelling on loose and lively songs that sounded made up on the spot, as well as carefully crafted ballads that could crack the heart of the toughest customers.
Lane was truly a versatile writer within his niche, and his range was impressively wide: stretching from cheerful acoustic rockers ("How Come") to majestically epic tales ("The Poacher"), spiritually nimble bluegrass ("Stone") to insistent folk rock ("Anniversary"), and corny old-time standards ("Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?") to tear-stained down-home balladry ("Annie"). His run of albums didn't last long as he was hindered by low finances and bad luck, then cut down by illness in the early '80s. Lane kept playing live after he fell ill, though, and the fifth disc of the collection gathers up sets recorded in the early 80s; the sixth details his years in the U.S. in the late '80s and early '90s as he struggled physically but was still able to perform with the same easygoing brio and charm as always. His voice may be a little rough around the edges, but the songs are great and the band is game. The final studio session Lane recorded is here, too, and while it's a little lacking in polish, he could still come up with a fine melody as "Hearts of Oak" proves.
Just for a Moment is put together with a great deal of care and rewards careful study while also filling hearts and souls with warm feelings as the mandolins tinkle, the guitar merrily strums, the drums lope along, and Lane presides over it all like a magical ringleader clad in a shabby top hat and a beatific smile. It excavates all kinds of worthy rarities that fit perfectly next to the songs Lane fans already know and love and stands as a fitting tribute to a sometimes unsung hero of '60s and '70s rock & roll.