Al Stewart

Just Yesterday

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This five-CD set from EMI bears a striking resemblance to the same label's similarly proportioned Hollies box set, The Long Road Home 1963-2003 -- both feature a quintet of CDs, one of them technically a live "bonus" disc tucked into an internal sleeve, and are otherwise chock-full of rarities and definitively remastered catalog cuts. Starting from his debut single, "The Elf" (an early piece of Tolkien-inspired pop/rock), this is a superior overview of Al Stewart's career and musical development, from his early days as a folk-rock figure in the mold of Donovan to his development early in the next decade of a unique approach to songwriting and music. That Al Stewart ever achieved sufficient recognition to rate such treatment is extraordinary in itself, if only as a convergence of a fairly outré folk-rock talent with a major portion of the public's taste, for at least a few years. The producers have done well by the artist, his music, and his fans, with impeccable production, musical and otherwise. The choice of material is virtually beyond reproach -- one might only fault the absence of the epic-length "Love Chronicles" which, at the time of this set's issue, had not yet shown up on CD -- and there are enough rarities and unreleased tracks to more than make up for any oversights among the reissued cuts. The annotation is not only thorough but illuminating, in terms of reconciling some considerable biographical material with the music at hand, and the packaging is handy. Oddly enough, the one element among the five-CD, 69-song set that might be superfluous is the grouping of nine tracks contained on the fifth CD -- what are the odds that anyone who would spring for this set wouldn't already own Time Passages Live? But apart from that issue, this is a nearly flawless set, and one that any serious fan can expect to enjoy for years. In fact, discs one and two, which cover Stewart's most successful commercial period, would comprise an extremely persuasive introduction to his work for the uninitiated, and Time Passages Live offers the same virtues here that it did as a freestanding CD upon its original release.

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