Ask any of his collaborators and they'll tell you, Ronnie Lane was special. Sure, he was an exceedingly talented singer, bassist, guitarist, and songwriter; he was also a uniquely open-minded and welcoming collaborator who was more than willing to nurture talent. But what really sets Ronnie Lane apart is the way he subverted what it meant to be a popular musician.
Unlike the majority of his peers, Ronnie Lane didn't want to be a rock star. He wanted his music to reach people, sure, but he'd tasted fame (and explored all its excesses) as a member of The Small Faces and, later, Faces. He eventually soured on the entire music industry game. He found that the endless PR, radio, touring, and industry pressures masked what truly mattered: amazing performances and hard-hitting songwriting. So, in the early '70s, he split with Faces and effectively retired from that age-old "star-maker machinery," electing to live out on his farm, record in his own Lane Mobile Studio, and tour as a troubadour with a merry band of his choosing.
UMC's new box set Just For A Moment: Music 1973-1997 explores Ronnie Lane's post-Faces career and more, bringing together all of Lane's studio recordings and collaborations, plus a wealth of previously unreleased recordings. Among them are outtakes, live recordings, demo versions, and newly unearthed songs. But it's worth pointing out that this is far more than a collection of "post-Faces" work. To typify the box set as "the stuff that came after his fame" misses the point. Over the course of the 118 tracks on 6 CDs, listeners get a comprehensive view into Lane's boundless creativity that spanned decades. The result reaches beyond the oft-repeated mythology of farmland, caravan tours, poor publicity, and financial woes. Instead, the set gets to the heart of the matter, showing Lane conquering all odds to deliver consistently stellar work, even on the material that somehow languished in the vaults for decades. And Just For A Moment delivers plenty such rarities!
Just For A Moment was curated by Charlie Hart, a frequent collaborator of Lane's and a longtime member of Slim Chance, the band Lane formed after going solo. Hart raided the vaults and sequenced the tracks to tell every side of Lane's story: in-the-studio or live in concert; in England or in Texas; solo work and collaborations; time-tested masterpieces and unreleased, long-forgotten gems. It all begins with Anymore For Anymore, Lane's first long-player as a solo artist. By the time it was released in 1973, Lane had begun a new life out in the country in a new property called Fishpool, and his music reflected this shift. While glam and progressive rock were gripping listeners on the charts, Lane's sound was a polar opposite. He brought together his many influences - blues, folk, gospel, country, and soul - to create a laid-back amalgam all his own that embraced acoustic guitars, accordion, mandolin, and fiddle. Lane was backed by bassist Steve Bingham, multi-instrumentalists Graham Lyle and Benny Gallagher (who would go on to have a career of their own), guitarist Kevin Westlake, saxophonist Jimmy Jewell, fiddle player Ken Slaven, and drummer Bruce Rowland. Together, they were the first incarnation of Slim Chance.
Their debut was oftentimes down-home and about as musically unpretentious as could be, but that's not to say it was without musicianship. "Careless Love," the album's kick-off track, builds to a near collective-improvisation; the charming and churning "Bye and Bye (Gonna See the King)" retains an old-world quality that belies a fairly involved arrangement. "The Poacher," which was selected by Island to be a single (it didn't fare well) is another beast altogether. Perhaps the most pop-leaning on the album, its symphonic accompaniment, catchy woodwind interjections, and melange of keyboards elevate the track. Elsewhere, "Tell Everyone" shows Lane's gospel-soul influence complete with sax solo. "Chicken Wired" is a loose, bluesy barnstormer, while "Anymore for Anymore" perfectly blends the country-tinged mandolin and accordion with Lane's penchant for direct and simple lyrics.
In all, Anymore For Anymore saw Lane beginning his transformation from a Face in a band to an auteur, harnessing his talents and whatever available funds to build an environment where he could create without industry pressures. He built the Lane Mobile Studio as a response to the prohibitive practices of conventional studios. Free to record whenever he wanted, Lane could be more spontaneous if he so chose, but also had the flexibility to spend considerable time on a song. He was known to take his time to perfect every lyric, sculpt arrangements, and revisit his compositions until they were just right. This dedication to songwriting and performance permeated even his most homespun recordings.
Anymore For Anymore is supplemented with ten bonus tracks on Just For A Moment. There's the folksy non-album single "How Come" and its cinematic B-side "Done This One Before" and four live recordings of Faces tunes taken from BBC sessions and Lane's ill-fated Passing Show caravan tour from 1973 and 1974. There's also a newly unearthed alternate take of "How Come," as well as three tracks from Mahoney's Last Stand, the soundtrack album collaboration that Lane began with Ron Wood in 1972. It features the arresting "Just For A Moment," a down-home jam called "From the Late to the Early," and a stunning multi-tracked, a capella arrangement of the folk standard "I'll Fly Away" with guest vocals by Billy Nicholls and Glyn Johns. Mahoney's Last Stand stands as a critical junction between Lane's days in Faces and the new directions he'd soon explore; the tracks are a most welcome inclusion.
Lane continued to embrace a spontaneous but thorough work ethic with his next album, simply titled Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance. By this point, the group was signed to Island Records, a move that they hoped would boost their profile. The band set up at Mick Jagger's country property, Stargrove, and recorded the whole album with Lane's mobile studio in two weeks. He revisited "Stone," a song inspired by Meher Baba's teachings that was previously attempted on the rare 1970 album Happy Birthday, his first collaboration with fellow Meher Baba follower Pete Townshend. There are also jaunty covers of rock 'n' roll classics like "Blue Monday" and "You Never Can Tell," and a number of country-inflected originals, a rollicking rocker called "Anniversary," and a take on the Tin Pan Alley standard "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself a Letter)."
The album shows Lane and company solidifying their unique style, which - with Island's backing - introduced a wider audience to a new brand of British folk. The band toured the album extensively in 1975, but it didn't do much to move copies. Lane later said that fans had told him they couldn't find the record in stores. Displeased, he called up Island, who explained that stores would only order copies if it were on the charts. Lane, quoted in the liner notes, said, "How could the record get into the charts if people couldn't buy it anywhere? That was a disaster." Yet, you couldn't tell from the joyous performances that anything may have been going wrong behind the scenes. In addition to the core album, Disc 2 Just For A Moment includes five live recordings from the BBC, and the single "What Went Down (That Night With You)" b/w "Lovely," along with a rare outtake version of the A-side.
The next year, Lane was under new management and found the funding for another long-player. One For the Road was - like all his albums - a true labor of love. As Charlie Hart recalls in the liner notes: "Each song was carefully worked over. At the time it seemed quite slow. A song would take a month or two." The resulting album included the driving "32nd Street" - a song about a quest for freedom; the serene instrumental "Harvest Home;" the minor-key ballad "Burnin' Summer," and the aptly titled "Nobody's Listenin'." Indeed, the band's painstaking work ethic and strong material weren't enough to drive sales and with money low and band members left unpaid for gigs, the group eventually dissolved.
Following Slim Chance's disbanding, Lane continued to demo songs at Fishpool. Five such Fishpool session tracks round out Disc 3, including the grooving highlight "Lonely." Listeners are also treated to five tracks from his most successful collaboration: Rough Mix with Pete Townshend. The intention of the album was clear at the outset: this wasn't going to be a conventional superstar jam record. Instead, Lane and Townshend, along with a backing group including Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Ian Stewart, John Entwistle, and more, delivered a well-crafted album free of "Who cliches," as Townshend once called them. Ronnie's four compositions for Rough Mix are all accounted for on Disc 3 of Just For A Moment. From the haunting country-flavored ballad "Annie" co-written with Eric Clapton and Kate Lambert, to the touching "April Fool" that features a beautiful and understated Clapton solo, and barnstormers like "Catmelody" and "Silly Little Man," there's no shortage of excellent material.
After Rough Mix, Lane hit the road with Clapton and came back in 1978 with a cache of new material that eventually became 1980's See Me. Despite early signs of multiple sclerosis, Lane delivered an album full of fine performances and beautifully produced classic songs like "One Step," "Kuschty Rye," and the rockabilly-inspired "You're So Right" and the doo wop-tinged original "Only You." His backup band included Eric Clapton, Wings alum Henry McCullough, Cat Stevens collaborator Alun Davies, and the ever-present multi-instrumentalist Charlie Hart. A further fifties classic, "Three Cool Cats," is present in its finished form and as a demo.
The spirit of fifties R&B continues into the bonus material on Disc 4. After See Me was released, Lane sold his farm and relocated to London for treatment. At this point, he made a new band that laid down a number of covers like "The Joint is Jumping," "Annie Had A Baby," "Rocket '69" and "The Wanderer." The set also includes recently unearthed sessions and demos. The booze-soaked anthem "Pisshead Blues" is among the treasures that turned up in Lane's brother, Stan's barn, along with the Pete Townshend-like acoustic demo "Barcelona."
Disc 5, entitled "Live + Odds and Ends," shines a light on Lane's talents onstage before taking listeners on a detour into the studio. It begins with a number of tracks from Lane's Rockpalast performance from March, 1980 where he was backed by the See Me lineup. A 1981 Capital Radio session version of "Debris" also features, along with Fishpool sessions from 1977. These include a cover of The Mar-Keys' "Last Night" and a jaunty rocker called "Around the World (Grow Too Old)." Backing Lane up on this pair are the final Slim Chance lineup plus Eric Clapton. A 1976 BBC performance of the jangly "All or Nothing" is a welcome addition, as are early session versions of "Bombers Moon" (a/k/a "Rio Grande") and "Last Tango in Nato." Both tracks would be revisited by Lane and fellow ex-Face Steve Marriott for the Majic Mijits project. The CD closes with another take on the 1974 B-side "Lovely," and Fishpool demos for "Silly Little Man" and "Catmelody" (a/k/a "Rat's Tales.")
Following the release of See Me, Lane began seeking treatment for MS, the debilitating condition to which he'd later succumb. He found his way across the pond and settled first in Houston, TX, then to Austin. There he became a valued member of the music community. Lane felt right at home in the city where music remains a cornerstone of culture. Disc 6 is devoted to Lane's U.S. recordings. Tracks 1-6 are culled from the Live in Austin album, while the following three tracks are outtakes from that collection. Along the way, we hear from such Austin music cornerstones as Alejandro Escovedo, Rich Brotherton, R.C. Banks, Susan Voelz, Jody Denberg, and The Tremors. The latter join Lane for a rollicking if slightly ragged version of "Ooh La La" with former Rolling Stones sax player Bobby Keys. In Austin, Lane continued his freewheeling method of guiding musicians and bringing talent together. As always, he operated spontaneously, but was deliberate in certain parts of the arrangements. In early 1990, Lane toured Japan at the urging of David Lindley's manager. These later-era recordings - though sometimes sonically shaky - show a man who, even in the face of MS, continued to embrace music and its power to bring people together. His updated arrangements of classics like "Glad and Sorry" and "Just For a Moment" see him embracing his past while looking ahead as he always did.
Disc 6 closes out with a Houston demo of "Spiritual Babe," a soulful synthy blues track, plus a rare 1992 song called "King of the Lazy World." That song was co-written with Brad Brobisky for an album by Brobinsky's band The Keepers. By this point, Lane's vocals had to be recorded one phrase at a time. Over the years, Lane's vocal part got lost so Brobinsky re-cut the vocal for his album. In 2018, an in-line cassette of Lane's once-lost vocal was unearthed, allowing Just For A Moment's compilers to present this song as it was intended for the first time ever. Finally, listeners are treated to a 1989 session at Arlyn Studio. These tapes take the listener in the studio during the recording of songs that remained in various stages of completion. They offer a glimpse into Lane and company's creative process, full of laughter and great music. It's a wonderful high note on which to end this all-encompassing box set.
In all, the music on Just For A Moment: Music 1973-1997 is a breath of fresh air. Lane was always something of a maverick who desired something more than sticking to what the industry felt was popular. Whether it be the pastoral early work from the 1970s, his R&B-flavored later material, or the feel-good bar-rock from his Austin days, Lane's musical quest was always guided by a need for authenticity. And what better main ingredient is there for great music?
If the music on Just For A Moment: Music 1973-1997 wasn't enough to warrant a spot on your shelf, then the set's beautiful presentation will. In short, the design of the box set is absolutely gorgeous. The accompanying 72-page, glossy hardback book is a veritable treasure trove of rare and unseen photographs, album art, and memorabilia that will delight any fan. After a heartwarming foreword from Pete Townshend come three essays that explore the different phases of Lane's life and work. Paolo Hewitt examines the beginnings of Lane's solo career; Kris Needs delves into the middle years from 1976-1983; and Lane's Austin contemporary Kent H. Benjamin details the musician's time in the States. Each essay features recollections from band members and collaborators, along with historical interview excerpts from Lane himself that contextualize his work.
The package also includes an A2-sized Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance concert poster and a beautifully illustrated 32-page book of selected lyrics. It's all housed in a sturdy outer slipcase. Every element of Just For A Moment incorporates the logos, typography, and signature designs found in Lane's work, and the visual attention to detail is something to behold. Pair that with the "no-stone-unturned" approach in compiling the music, and the result is one of the finest box sets of the year so far.
In all, Just For A Moment: Music 1973-1997 is a comprehensive and long-overdue celebration of a singular talent whose influence is still felt today. While Lane may have never achieved the fame he deserved as a solo artist, with Just For A Moment he's finally given his moment in the spotlight.
Just For A Moment: Music 1973-1997 is available now from UMC. We reviewed the 6-CD box set, but 1-CD and 2-LP distillations are available, as well. You can find links for all the configurations below:
6-CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
1-CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
2-LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada
Ian Moore says
Excellent well thought out review of a fantastic box set by somebody who had obviously listened to every track.
Great review of a wonderful tribute to an amazing musician who, after building up two groups only to have the peacock-like lead singers ruin things due to ego, dusted himself off to create the finest music of his career. And it's all here to discover and enjoy.
Consumer tip: compare the shipped prices from amazon and from amazon.co.uk.
Trainspotter tip: Last Night was by the Mar-Keys. It was a hit in 1961, a full year before Green Onions.
But I digress. Get this box!
Sam Stone says
Good catch. Looks like I got my Stax bands backwards -- d'oh! Thanks for the feedback, I'm glad you enjoyed the review!
If one person buys this box after reading your excellent review of this terrific collection, you are forgiven! Last Night is one of my favorite instrumentals, the sign of what was to come from Stax. And, I'm a little crazy!
Simon F says
A beautifully written review, tempted to copy it and put it in with my box.