CD Review – Al Stewart – Time Passages Deluxe Edition

It is fair to say that Al Stewart was at somewhat of a commercial high point in the mid to late 1970s. His previous album to this one, Year Of The Cat, originally released in 1976, is generally seen as the high-water mark of his career. It was a hit album on both sides of the Atlantic, and spawned a hit single of the same name. Time Passages, released in 1978, had a lot to live up to and it certainly achieved this in business terms, performing well if not quite as well as its predecessor. Both albums achieved platinum status.

Al was part of the English folk scene that emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s. He had been releasing albums since 1967 on the CBS record label, although a change to RCA occurred in time for Year OF The Cat. The change in record labels seemed to indicate a slightly different stance by Al. His previous releases had seen the lyrics dealing with historical story lines, now they seemed to include more contemporary themes. Another changing factor was the employment of noted engineer and producer Alan Parsons, first in 1975 for Al’s Modern Times, and subsequently on both Year Of The Cat and Time Passages. Parsons brought with him the glossy sheen and brilliant production for which he is famous.

Esoteric Recordings has now released a four-disc deluxe limited edition boxed set of Time Passages, comprising of three CDs and a DVD of the album. The new deluxe edition of this special album has been newly remastered for the very first time from the original first-generation master tapes by Alan Parsons himself and also features his new 5.1 Surround sound mix from the original multi-track tapes. The set also includes single edits, an album session out-take, four demo tracks recorded in Los Angeles in August 1977 and for the first time a complete concert recorded at the studios of WKQK-FM in Chicago in October 1978. The limited edition boxed set also features a tremendous illustrated sixty-eight-page book with a new essay featuring an interview with Al, a facsimile promotional poster and a set of four postcards. It is a sumptuous fitting tribute to a much treasured and legendary masterpiece by a musician considered a consummate songwriter and performer. 

The music from the original album, beautifully cleaned up for this release, sees Al leaning on an eclectic array of influences drawing on not only his folk interests, but also tastes of jazz and psychedelia. Combined with Alan Parsons’ tasteful but glossy production approach, the music edges quite noticeably towards soft rock. Al’s song-writing and arrangements are spot on. He is not an overly dramatic or venomous singer, there’s no bombast. He still has the folkish story telling feel in the songs, the calmness and erudition giving the impression of a story teller or someone wanting to point something interesting out. In that sense, the songs are friendly and approachable, though not necessarily in content. Multi-instrumentalist Pete White helps out with the song writing on the first and last tracks of the original album. The album is a colourful listen, with plenty of diverse guitar and keyboard sounds, saxophones, and backing singers along with some string arrangements. The backing musicians blend well with Al, most notably co-guitarist Tim Renwick, who is a great foil for him and who steps forward for a tasteful guitar solo or two (mainly on the live material on the live discs though). Al sings both of contemporary and historical subjects, the opening title track being a thoughtful reflection on the nature of time. The release includes previously unreleased tracks and demos that show different aspects of the songs.

The live material included in the release is actually taken from a radio broadcast made by Al and his band on 27th October 1978 in Chicago. It is well recorded, the band are in fine form, even whimsically playing a fun version of The Pink Panther Theme. Al is surrounded by a very talented band who are all allowed their time to display their musical wares.

(Unfortunately, the fourth – sound surround – disc is not included for review purposes, so it is not possible to comment on its quality).

This is really an impressive boxset, well produced and presented. A lot of thought has gone into it and it shows. The booklet is splendid and has a lot of detail. The music sounds as impressive as ever. The time of the original release was supposed to be a period of turmoil in music, with punks seemingly laying waste to all that had gone before. The success of this album in 1978 helps to show that to be a lie. It is a classy album of thoughtful calmness, without recourse to aggression or bullying. The album was both out of its time and well in its time, a paradox that you feel would appeal to Al. An impressive release, attractively presented and compiled. More than a snapshot of its time, more a celebration of it.

Disc One: Time Passages

Remastered By Alan Parsons

1. Time Passages

2. Valentina Way

3. Life In Dark Water

4. A Man For All Seasons

5. Almost Lucy

6. The Palace Of Versailles

7. Timeless Skies

8. Song On The Radio

9. End Of The Day

Bonus Track

10. Tonton Macoute (Recorded At Davlen Studios, Los Angeles In December 1977) (Previously Unreleased)

Disc Two

1. Time Passages (Single Version)

2. Song On The Radio (Single Version)

Demo Recordings – August 1977

3. Tonton Macoute (Demo) (Recorded At Larrabee Sound Studios In August 1977)

4. Life In A Bottle (Demo) (Recorded At Larrabee Sound Studios In August 1977)

5. The Palace Of Versailles (Demo) (Recorded At Larrabee Sound Studios In August 1977) (Previously Unreleased)

6. The Hollywood Sign (On St. Stephen’s Day) (Timeless Skies) (Demo) (Recorded At Larrabee Sound Studios In August 1977) (Previously Unreleased)

The Chicago Radio Concert – 27th October 1978

7. Time Passages (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

8. Life In Dark Water (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

9. The Palace Of Versailles (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978) (Previously Unreleased)

10. Valentina Way (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

11. The Pink Panther Theme (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

12. Song On The Radio (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

Disc Three: The Chicago Radio Concert – 27th October 1978

1. One Stage Before (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978) (Previously Unreleased)

2. Life In Dark Water (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

3. Roads To Moscow (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

4. Sirens Of Titan (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978) (Previously Unreleased)

5. The Palace Of Versailles (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978) (Previously Unreleased)

6. Valentina Way (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

7. Year Of The Cat (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

8. The Pink Panther Theme (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

9. Song On The Radio (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978)

10. Carol (Live Radio Concert Chicago 1978) (Previously Unreleased)

Disc Four: Time Passages

High Resolution 96 Khz / 24-Bit 5.1 Surround Sound Mix & Original Re- Mastered Stereo Mix By Alan Parsons

1. Time Passages (5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

2. Valentina Way (5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

3. Life In Dark Water (5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

4. A Man For All Seasons (5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

5. Almost Lucy (5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

6. The Palace Of Versailles (5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

7. Timeless Skies (5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

8. Song On The Radio (5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

9. End Of The Day (5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

Line-up on original album:

Al Stewart – guitars, keyboards, vocals

Peter White – guitars, lead guitar (Tracks 1, 2 and 9), keyboards, accordion

J. Peter Robinson – grand piano, organ on “Valentina Way”

Peter Solley – synthesizer on “Palace of Versailles”

Peter Wood – keyboards, organ, piano

Tim Renwick – electric guitar, lead guitar (Tracks 3, 4, 5 and 6)

Robin Lamble – bass guitar

Mark Goldenberg – rhythm guitar on “Valentina Way”

Phil Kenzie – alto saxophone on Tracks 1 and 8

Stuart Elliott – drums (except Track 2)

Jeff Porcaro – drums on “Valentina Way”

Al Perkins – pedal steel guitar

Bill Linnane – guitar

 Art Tripp lll, Lindsay Elliott – percussion

 Brian Huddy, Joe Puerta, David Pack, James R. West, Krysia Kristianne, Jeff Borgeson – backing vocals

 Andrew Powell – string arrangements

Release date: 15th October 2021

Label: Esoteric Records

https://alstewart.com/

https://www.facebook.com/officialalstewart

https://twitter.com/alstewartinfo?lang=en

https://www.cherryred.co.uk/artist/al-stewart/

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