Thursday, October 30, 2014

Song of the Day: Rod Stewart - Man of Constant Sorrow (1969)

Anyone that's talked seriously about music with me knows I have a completely unashamed love for early Rod Stewart, and he's a contender for my favorite singer ever. That may seem odd given what Rod has been for the last 35 years, but he really wasn't always like that. Prior to "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" and his sell-out cultivation of the "mom audience" that continues to this day, he was one of the best rock vocalists and performers out there. 

Few artists have ever had a hot streak like Rod had from '68-'73, when he hit a peak in three different genres. First he recorded two albums as the vocalist of the Jeff Beck Group, which a lot of rock historians credit with having created heavy metal. Then in '69 he started dual careers as a solo folk artist and as the front man for The Faces, who were nothing short of the best rock band of the early 70's not named The Rolling Stones or The Who. (Yes, they were better than Zeppelin.)
In some ways, it's problematic to even think of Rod's five albums from this period as real solo albums, because the other members of The Faces all played on them (and Ron Wood was even co-writing a lot of the songs). But the chief difference is that Faces albums were all-out rock and had all original material, while Rod's albums were mostly acoustic and folky and featured a lot of covers. This is one of the best.

To listen to Rod's cover of "Man of Constant Sorrow" is to fully understand why he used to be so great, no matter how hard he keeps trying to make us all forget it. This is a folk song from 1913, probably most famous in it's incarnation from the soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, but this is the best version. The arrangement (probably by Wood) is wonderful, and Rod's voice is the perfect mix of Sam Cooke-soulful and whiskey-soaked growl that few other singers have ever come close to. The way he transitions from the song's loud climax down into the calming lyric of "I'm going back to Colorado" just slays me every time.

This was originally written and posted on Facebook on May 26, 2014

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