Ronnie Lane & Slim Chance / Ronnie Lane

Ooh La La: An Island Harvest

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Despite being one of rock & roll's best songwriters, and playing foundational roles in the Small Faces and the Faces, Ronnie Lane has been rather ill-served by the official music biz. After leaving the Faces in 1973, he moved to Fishpool farm, near Hyssington on the Welsh-English border. There, while living the country life, he assembled Slim Chance, an evolving band that wove together a loose, spirited, good-timey amalgam of blues, rural folk, skiffle, country, roots rock, and even some early jazz and vaudeville in both originals and well-chosen covers. They released three albums between 1974 and 1976: Anymore for Anymore, Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, and One for the Road. They scored one hit single with "How Come," and nearly had another with "The Poacher." Edsel reissued the albums in the U.K. in the 1990s, and the Lane family's Just for a Moment from 2006 touched on the Slim Chance material. Ooh La La: An Island Harvest addresses that absence. Over two discs and 37 tunes, it compiles material from the two latter albums, unreleased alternate versions of classic Lane tunes, and eight cuts from the BBC in Concert broadcast of 1974. Unfortunately, Anymore for Anymore is not represented by studio material, but there still isn't a duff cut here. The fourth-take alternate of "Ooh La La" features a woolier alto sax solo creating a wilder, more celebratory feel, while the drunken first take of Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" contains false starts, but finds its teetering groove and look out. The midtempo "Steppin' and Reelin'" blends acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins, and rickety snare in a priceless roots rock barroom shuffle. The alternate take of "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself a Letter)" touches on vaudeville by way of 1940s jazz-blues and it's looser than the album version. The second-take of "The Poacher" uses more cello, less violin. The swelling organ underscores the baroque pop melody, making it sound brighter. When you contrast it with the choppy R&B of "Street Gang," the raw acoustic blues of "Nobody's Listenin'," and the breezy back-porch waltz of "Country Boy," you understand what this band was capable of--even when they weren't trying that hard. Thankfully, the tracks from the BBC in Concert gig are placed together at the end of disc two, and reproduced in solid quality. They include a kinetic version of "How Come" and a soulful country-rock reading of "I Believe in You." Most importantly, it includes a devastatingly beautiful, wonderfully ragged "Debris," followed by a raucous reading of the title cut to close. Ooh La La: An Island Harvest makes for absolutely essential listening for anyone interested in Lane and mid-'70s rock & roll. That said, it creates real longing for official reissues of all three RLSC albums and whatever else remains in the can.

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