Ronnie Lane - Anymore for Anymore
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I once joked to a friend that Ronnie Lane’s Anymore for Anymore was the album I wanted in the air during my last deathbed gasp. Sure, it’s a rather morbid means of seeing the great songwriter’s most enduring solo work, and it clashes almost too perfectly with the whimsical and ascendant musicianship Lane brings to the record, but it’s a clue to just the level of inspiration it invokes. Actually, when I think back on it with the record still in my ears, I know I wasn’t joking at all.
Commonly known as the soul and lead songwriter behind the Small Faces and later the Faces, the man who kept them together through their shuffling members—the loss of Steve Marriott, the addition of future Stone and Keith Richards’ doppelganger, Ronnie Wood, and the bust-out solo success of Rod Stewart—and their rollicking stage performances—the band used to refer to their sound as ‘rhythm and booze’—Lane had grown tired of the mayhem by early 1973. Albums like their masterpiece A Nod is as Good as a Wink to a Blind Horse and the single-driven Ooh La La had run their course, and left Lane with a coppery taste. The ragged touring and drinking had worn him thin, and Lane understood the group was at the end of achieving any cohesion or group-think (he would later jibe “I knew it was time to leave the band when Rod started buying his clothes at Miss Selridge,” and both Stewart and Wood admitted that Lane’s departure was the obvious end to the band).
Finally quitting in June of 1973, Lane retreated to his hundred-acre farm in Wales named Fishbowl with second-wife Kate and a motley road-crew of musicians and friends he referred to loosely as The Slim Chance Band. Included in the group were Bruce Rowland on drums, Jimmy Jewell on saxophone, Steve Bingham on bass, Kevin Westlake on guitar, and Bill Livsey on keyboards, as well as revolving multi-instrumentalists and fiddle players. Most of what would become Anymore for Anymore was recorded in Lane’s barn, or in various fields for mood-setting, often using his notorious caravan studio, the LMS (Lane’s Mobile Studio). Though Glyn Johns was lined up to produce the record, in the end, Lane would handle the lion’s share of the duties himself, with Johns receiving sole production credit only on “Tell Everyone.”
Given the rustic edges and hushed intimacy of the record, it’s hard to imagine Anymore for Anymore coming from anyplace built by hand. As it shuffles across Tin Pan Alley whistle-blowers, foot-stomping cut-loose turkey-grinding blues, and the solemn prayers and whispered pleading of gospel, Lane and the band meld the junk-yard into their country surroundings. You can almost hear chew-spitters sitting on front porches and catching verses carried on the wind, and the soft closing of screen-porch-doors in the peach-fuzz dawn. The carnival barker is the prophet and he wears his sign like a tattoo. Beer buzzes are one thing, and they carry us all through the cramming, but beer-soaked reverie is a completely different comfort. It’s an alarum for night-owls and Sunday-preachers both, summoning them from distant ramshackle abodes and uncut grass. Come one, come all, the band seems to say, and we’ll smear the night with bliss and fortitude.
Opener “Careless Love” sets the album off at a trot. A standard folk song, Lane and the band turn up the rhythm section to carve out a new crooked dance. The song’s lyrical content reflects Lane’s own bemused look at love, as both he and second-wife Kate Lambert were married to other people when they first met. It’s a song that asks lovers for a long-leash, and after Jimmy Jewell’s swelling sax solo, it’s difficult not to submit to its demands.
“(Bye and Bye) Going to See the King” is the record’s first moment of blustering gospel. After a short acoustic intro, Lane and the band begin to saunter across the floor-boards, jug-banding through Graham Lyle’s sticky bottleneck guitar work and Bill Livsey’s bluesy piano runs. The entire band swells into the song’s glowing harmony, until this Sabbath-day jam closes on the sun.
Second single “The Poacher” is in many ways the album’s centerpiece. A hovering electric piano sets the horizon for revolving acoustic guitar parts and its come-and-go rhythm, but the song seems content to huddle in its own slow motions, shut off from the outside. An explosive string outro, arranged by Jimmy Horowitz, grinds this listlessness into the floorboards though, and ends one of the record’s densest tracks.
Perhaps one of its most interesting inclusions, “Tell Everyone” finds Lane remaking one of his tracks from the Faces’ Long Player, on which Rod Stewart assumed the lead. Though his voice lacks Stewart’s crusty grind, as he did on the Faces records, Lane holds his own by showing an obvious affinity for his own words. In comparing their vocal timbres, it’s clear who wrote the song and who had it in mind when he returned to Fishpool. You can hear his need to resume ownership in the rusty heartache in his voice. Backed by a simple acoustic guitar part and more of Livsey’s steady organ work, “Tell Everyone” works towards some of Jewell’s most assertive saxophone playing, as he swerves in and out of Lane’s vocals trying to underline his poignant moan. Not surprisingly, give his affiliation with the Faces, Glyn Johns gets his only production credit for this one.
For my money though, the album’s best track is its title cut, co-written with Lambert. This is Lane setting out for travel again, always the rock vagabond and its lone lost light, and wanting only the company of its many lapses and returns. Backed by Benny Gallagher’s squeeze box and Lyle’s tender picking, the song’s rhythm section withdraws here. The rootlessness and need for the instant rebirth of the road lights Lane’s way, and the song’s classic woebegone melody has made it a minor cult fave. (For those with the reissued CD, kindly adore the Ibiza ’72 version dug up during the disc’s 1997 reissue, which Carlton Sandercock-Rout found amongst ancient Faces tapes. Like so many of Lane’s best songs, the Faces passed on this one for their more ragged-blues material. Here, loused with drunken fervor and amnesia, Lane is allowed a band-rehearsal version and can be heard shouting out chord changes to the Faces, missing choruses, mumbling “da da das” to himself instead of verses, and completely forgetting his lines. If ever there were an indication of how badly he needed to leave the traveling souse repertoire of the Faces for a solo career, this is it.)
But Christ, anybody waiting for the boys stranded in the Welsh countryside to cutthefuckloose and spit-up all the preceding years’ hairy rotgut fuel need look no further than Lane-classic “Chicken Wired,” a jitterbug runner that in various strains would find its way into Lane and Ron Wood’s scattershot Mahoney’s Last Stand and Lane’s Pete Townsend collaboration, Rough Mix. Livsey’s pool-hall piano lines strain to hold their own against Jewell’s Fats Domino-sway. The entire band main-lines their pleasure in the proceedings, and you can bet that barn was trembling and splitting like a Kansas hurricane that evening.
As “Chicken Wired” tires in rabid flight, closer and first single, the UK Top 10 Hit “How Come,” opens its still, mournful strum. The album’s simplest song, backed for the most part only by black-country acoustic guitar, Lane uses it to question the value of superstition in the light of affection. It’s a classic reassessment of value taken for granted, as he ponders just what those star-crossed signals mean. After all, love is still love, and though you’re always looking for spitfire reasons to question just how good it is, second-guessings are usually moot. So, here Lane reminds us, the morning drips from all that Mountain Dew the night before, but you have that warm body, and you have again and again the need for songs like this.
Lane and the Slim Chance band would go onto record two more records, 1975’s Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance and 1976’s One for the Road. Neither would recapture the storm-lit glow of Anymore for Anymore however. In the end, given the album’s aspiring flow, it’s hard to conceive of it as something borne of this life. I mentioned I’d play it on my deathbed, but that’s almost offensively presumptuous, to suppose something like the end of any of us in the face of Anymore for Anymore. It’s a record that clamors against run-time to approach infinitude. As “How Come” runs down, I sometimes wish I were a religious man. And then, again and again, I know these are psalms enough.