Ronnie Lane

You Never Can Tell

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Released shortly after Ronnie Lane's death in 1997 from multiple sclerosis, a disease that dogged him for the final 20 years of his career, You Never Can Tell collects the work of five separate performances for the BBC. Recorded between 1973 (the year he formed Slim Chance) and late 1976 (when he dissolved Slim Chance), the tunes show how dedicated Lane was to creating his unique new sound; a homey mixture of American and British Isles folk styles crossed with pub rock, English music hall traditions, as well as a touch of R&B. Slim Chance regularly featured two fiddles, accordion, dobro, mandolin, and saxophone in addition to the standard rock quintet at its core. The result is a carefree, loose, and busky feel that can be heard in later groups like the Waterboys and the Pogues. The two-disc set does, however, suffer from the same programming pitfalls that have plagued BBC releases by other artists -- that of pointless track repetition. Three versions of "Oh La La," two each of "Anniversary" (one of his most endearing tunes), "Don't Try and Change My Mind," "Steppin' & Reelin'," and the Chuck Berry rocker "You Never Can Tell" can get a bit repetitive. None of the repeated tracks are all that different from each other and one has to wonder if there were other tracks left off for some good reason or another. Missing is even one version of Lane's stoic Faces meditation "Glad & Sorry," not to mention a couple of notable Slim Chance singles as well. Perhaps the best quality live recordings of Slim Chance in existence, though, and a must for those felt unsatisfied with Lane's meager contributions to Faces. The singer's, dry, raspy tenor and his band's enthusiastic playing remind us of why he meant so much to so many, and how much was lost when his illness forced him into retirement.

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