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Rough Mix—9
 
Released: 1977

1) My Baby Gives It Away  2) Nowhere To Run  3) Rough Mix  4) Annie  5) Keep Me Turning  6) Catmelody  7) Misunderstood  8) April Fool  9) Street In The City  10) Heart To Hand Onto  11) Till The Rivers All Run Dry

 

In 1977, Ronnie Lane found himself, as usual, in dire financial straights.  His previous three albums made virtually no money, and his only hit, “How Come?” was released almost five years previous.  So, in an act of desperation, he asked his old Mod friend Pete Townshend to collaborate on an album…but Pete did more than that.  He assembled an all-star cast of characters to help out Lane and the revolving door of stars assisted these two legends to produce “Rough Mix,” a long lost roots rock gem. 

 

Although not diagnosed until the middle of the year, Lane was undoubtedly feeling the effects of Multiple Sclerosis throughout the recording process.  Still, he manages to lay down some of his most emotional music and Townshend too, comes through with major and minor gems throughout.  Although the pair didn’t really collaborate, the album seems to be sequenced to generate a songwriting competition between them.  First Townshend, then Lane, then back to Townshend, and each composer comes out punching.       

 

My Baby Gives It Away” is a great Townshend country rock song similar to what is found on “The Who By The Numbers.”  Charlie Watts, of the Rolling Stones guests on drums, and the song jumps off the speakers with its toe-tappin’ style and advancing rhythm.  Townshend sings it like he is having a great time, and it really is an excellent driving song.  Lane’s “Nowhere to Run” follows and slows things down, but keeps the quality high.  All campfire with harmonica, mandolin and banjo; it really is amazing that Lane didn’t grow up in the Middle America, he has perfected the bluegrass rock feel so well.  It seems like every good song he writes has that Southern polite sweetness seeping through, and this endearing, melodic offering is no different. 

 

The only song credited jointly to Townshend-Lane is the instrumental title track.  It is another more rocking effort with guest Eric Clapton brilliantly handling lead guitar and trading licks with Townshend.  Leaving out words usually means the music is so beautiful or powerful that it needs to take center stage, but this song, while a blast to listen to, is nothing more than a dirty rock riff.  The middle jazzy section is cool, but there is no reason to leave out a lyric…and, in fact, a vocal could have really raised the eminence of this song.  You don’t have time to feel that unsatisfied after “Rough Mix” though, as Lane bowls you over with his emotional masterpiece, “Annie.”  This song (again featuring a restrained Eric Clapton) is actually just a slower adaptation of Lane’s “Give Me A Penny” with different words and a great accordion, but this version is so much more sentimental that it is painfully heartbreaking.  I don’t know what it is, but Lane’s compositions have that ability to just make you sit down and remember that you really did love every girl you ever said that to, and you miss your Mom, and your sister was a brat--but she had her good qualities too, and your family dog that died when you were seven was such a good dog, and you feel all this at once every time he plays. 

 

Townshend’s up next and he writes a 1980s power ballad with “Keep Me Turning.”  The verse and coda have that pleasant country twang, but the chorus is all Journey.  Yeah, it is a little cheesy, but it is catchy and cozy.  Catmeoldy” features a great saxophone and two guest Stones: Charlie Watts on drums and the amazing Ian Stewart on piano.  This head-nodding Lane song represents his more bebop-rocking side and comes off as so much fun.  The melody isn’t anything original, but the atmosphere is just grooving.  The quirky gem, “Misunderstood” follows and is somehow both moody and warm.  This Townshend penned minor masterpiece is absolutely cool, but in a dorky way and features the album’s best lyrics.  If Lane kills you with resonance, then Townshend just destroys you with his songwriting talent: there are just so many little nuances thrown in here, something like ten different hooks (and that “cool walkin-smooth talking-straight smoking-fire stokin” part RULES).

 

Just when there are two goodtime, happy jaunts, and I’m smiling and feelin great, Lane comes in and tears my heart away.  April Fool” offers just two verses, a beautiful (but simple) guitar-picked melody, and Clapton on dobro, but the song absolutely breaks me down.  It deals with a guy coming to the realization that because of his kids, because of his house, because he decided to settle down, that all his other life ambitions can’t ever be had.  He is stuck where he is, and although he loves his life, it is just upsetting to let those images go.  The refrain of “I take my dreams to bed now, where they belong” just about trounces me every time I listen to this simple emotional classic.

 

Not to be outdone, Townshend offers his orchestrated, underrated, beautiful “Street In The City.”  Yes, the orchestration is COMPLETELY out of place on this down home country record, and at six minutes this is by far the longest track on the album, but I don’t care…it is just striking: melody, hooks, lyrics, singing…all of it.  The middle instrumental section is overblown and pompous, but so is Pete, and both the song and the man come out of this shinning.  Lane and Townshend duet on the Townshend track, “Heart To Hang Onto.”  It is a little more sinister and desperate sounding than the rest of the album and has an excellent instrumental section, featuring guest brass player (?) John Entwhistle.  Overall, it is another excellent piece of songwriting and a great performance.  A cover of an old country song. “Till The Rivers All Run Dry” closes out the album with Clapton, Entwhistle and background vocalists helping out.  The song is boring, but Townshend sings it well and the atmosphere is gorgeous.  Still, I don’t understand why Lane didn’t sing a verse or two…it really could have used his style.             

 

Rough Mix” has absolutely no filler, is overflowing with sincerity, and although doesn’t break any new ground, it is an excellent album.  Each tune offers multiple hooks and the guest musicians really make their mark.  Lane and Townshend had a great time in the studio (the linear notes said they played “various Acoustic & Electric guitars & very involved mind games”) and the mood really comes through in the music.  Like “Anymore for Anymore,” this album has been forgotten about and passed over, but it is one of the most inviting and enjoyable albums out there and some of the absolute best solo stuff each of these Sixties rock giants created.  Go out and buy it right now!

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