Al Stewart

The Best of Musikladen [DVD]

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Al Stewart was never counted among the more exciting artists of his era. A folk-rock style singer/songwriter, whose lyrics were the focus of much of his best work, he just never seemed to be that essential to take in live, which is why this 45-minute concert for German television dating from 1979 is a modest surprise. Stewart and his band not only do a fairly lively show before a studio audience, but the camera work is so mobile that the visuals never get boring. Additionally, the sound is so clean that it puts to shame some of Stewart's older CDs for quality. The performances are fresh and spirited, on material ranging from "SoHo (Needless to Say)" to more recent songs like "Time Passages," "Year of the Cat," and "On the Border." If there is a flaw, it's the absence of "Roads to Moscow," but considering that this performance was aimed at a German audience, that song might've fallen on deaf (or at least unsympathetic) ears. The other drawback is that not all of Stewart's material here is that memorable -- "Palace of Versailles," which runs more than five minutes, is rather tuneless, and "Valentina Way" isn't much better, but it does at least benefit from a nice tempo and a few decent hooks. Stewart plays a mix of acoustic and electric guitars backed by a septet that does a good job of recreating the songs' original sounds in a live context. The video transfer from SECAM to NTSC does reveal some artifacting -- momentary, intermittent horizontal lines -- but it is, otherwise, extremely sharp, bright, and pleasing.

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