All Ears 

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All Ears

By John Defore

Ooh La La

I just spent a weekend among very nice people who, though they had fine taste in many things, rubbed me wrong by singing the praises of Rod Stewart's recent mega-platinum LPs of old standards. Had they never heard an Ella Fitzgerald record, I wondered?

More importantly, had they never heard Faces? Well, probably not, and they probably wouldn't like the Rod's old band if they did hear 'em. For the rest of us, Rhino has just issued four discs of proof that Rod Stewart's cool days are long, long behind him. Full of boyish charm and drunken exuberance, Five Guys Walk Into A Bar... works both as a treasure trove for old-timers and a fine (albeit expensive) introduction for those whose knowledge of Stewart reaches back only to "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Pairing a healthy collection of album cuts with many live tracks (mostly BBC appearances), non-LP tunes from singles, rehearsals, and the like, it has something for everyone - including band takes on some of the singer's early solo hits (like "Maggie May") and tunes by the Beatles and Beach Boys.

(As great as the music on Five Guys is, you gotta gripe about Rhino's packaging. The label, which often sets the gold standard for classy design, has crammed the CDs into an undersized booklet so that getting to one disc requires removing another and shuffling it around. This may save on shipping costs, but it's a big pain in the ass for fans.)

The set was produced by former Face and current Austinite Ian McLagan, who unlike Stewart has not become a lounge singer. Rise & Shine! (Gaff Music), his latest record, is a logical extension of what he has been doing for years (in between sideman gigs for such folks as Billy Bragg); sweet, soulful, and raucous in all the right places, it's clearly the work of a guy who still plays gigs in small bars.

On the subject of white boys who got friendly with the blues: Columbia/Legacy has just released the three Muddy Waters discs produced by whiter-than-white guy Johnny Winter. Recorded around 1977-1980, they're the kind of revitalizing comeback one would wish for every blues legend - a springing to life alluded to plainly by the hot and sweaty titles: Hard Again, I'm Ready, and King Bee. From the first track, a relentless "Mannish Boy," listeners forgot the fallow period the legend had endured; the third disc (Waters' last in the studio before his death), may reek of the bitterness of internal disputes - the bluesman's entire band left him after its recording - but as the title track boasts, even in hard times he was the king. •

By John DeFore

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