In addition to his three-decade tenure as the bass player in the Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman has pursued two other, distinctly different musical careers, each of which is chronicled on this two-hour-and-35-minute, two-CD compilation. First, beginning with the release of his debut solo album, Monkey Grip, on Rolling Stones Records in May 1974, Wyman worked on his own as a singer, songwriter, and recording artist from then through the early '90s, while at the same time maintaining his position with the Stones. (Annotator David Wells, in his highly informative liner notes, makes clear, however, that Wyman's solo forays tended to be associated with periods of dissension in the band that, at times, made its continued existence doubtful, so they really constituted efforts to establish his name separately and were not just busman's holidays.) The height of these efforts had to be the single "(Si, Si) Je Suis un Rock Star," which, although unreleased in the U.S., was a hit across Europe in 1981. Second, starting in 1983, there were Wyman's assemblages of rock stars and journeymen into pickup bands that played roots rock music, initially the Willie & the Poor Boys project, intended to raise money for the medical expenses of friend Ronnie Lane of Faces, and then, after Wyman's retirement from the Rolling Stones in 1993, the Rhythm Kings. Each of these sides of Wyman's non-Stones activities gets its own disc here. First up, there is a thorough examination of the solo work, choosing tracks from Monkey Grip and its follow-up, Stone Alone (1976), which sound typical of mainstream rock in the mid-'70s, with Wyman proving an adequate singer and songwriter. But his next solo album, Bill Wyman (1982), which was not released stateside, found him delving into synth pop dance-rock. He recorded sporadically after that, with a compilation of rarities, Stuff, released only in Japan and Argentina in 1992. The three tracks from that album, including a version of Ray Davies' "This Strange Effect," are thus welcome.
Wyman released two albums with Willie & the Poor Boys and a series of discs with the Rhythm Kings, but only the first three tracks on disc two, from the 1985 Willie and the Poor Boys studio LP, are liable to be familiar to American listeners. The next three come from the group's live album, Tear It Up: Live (1994). There is nothing at all from the Rhythm Kings' studio albums; instead, 14 tracks are culled from the live albums Wyman pressed up himself and sold at gigs and on his website, crediting the band for legal purposes as "Bootleg Kings" -- Live in Europe (1998), Ride Again (2000), Travlin' Band (2001), and On the Road Again (2002). Whatever the name of the band, the approach is much the same. This is traditional American-style blues, rock & roll, rockabilly, jump blues, and folk-blues as played by a bunch of talented, experienced British musicians from the '60s. Here, Wyman largely retreats into his bass-playing role, emerging before a microphone only for Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" and a rural country reading of "Midnight Special." The most frequently heard lead singer is Procol Harum's Gary Brooker, who appears on five tracks, including a cover of "Lead Me to the Water," the title track from his 1982 solo album. Other singers include Chris Rea, Andy Fairweather Low, Jimmy Henderson, Beverley Skeete, Georgie Fame, Albert Lee, and Mike Sanchez. One track, "Georgia on My Mind," is a duet between Brooker on vocals and guitarist Martin Taylor; Wyman is not present at all. The music, like that on the Rhythm Kings' regular albums, is enjoyable, and the musicians clearly are having a good time. But the recordings are of a souvenir nature; the audiences no doubt enjoyed the shows, but never is there any danger of a performance exceeding the famous version by Berry or Elvis Presley or the Rock 'n' Roll Trio. As such, disc two of this Bill Wyman anthology must be seen more as a sampling of what he's been up to since leaving the Stones, while remaining inessential. But disc one is a true best-of.