Rod Stewart is the perfect blend of crass and class, of manic energy and baleful stares.
Through he personifies all the qualities of his music, it wasn't until "A Night on the Town" (Warner Brothers BSK 3116) that Stewart put together a totally consistent album. Examining his work since he left the Jeff Beck Group, one finds some true mile-stones (mosst all of which are collected on two double-record packages of greatest hits: "Rod Stewart's Greate st Hits, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 - Mercury SRM-2-7507 and 7509) but each solo album had enough gaps to make the listener wary of his ability to sustain quality.
No more. "A Night on the Town" stood head and shoulders above its predecessors and "Foot Loose and Fancy Free" (Warner Brothers BSK 3092) is a worthy successor. Once again, Tom Dowd is at the control boards mixing just enough raunch into jumpers like "Hot Legs" (which sounds like Son of "Stay With Me")and "Born Loose" and just enough plaintiveness into ballads like "You're in My Heart."
Stewart's confidence is now ingrained in his delivery, and what once occasionally sounded like artificial: bluster is now undiluted power.
Another plus on "Foot Loose and Fancy Free" is his band. Stewart has a history of competent but sloppy sidemen.That culminated in a verbal slap at the Faces after he left them for good and a vow to put together a semi-permanent touring group that could match his own talented abandon.
This album's musical core consists of guitarist Jim Cregan, bassist Phil Chen, John Jarvis on keyboards and drummer Carmen Appice. Appice has also played with Jeff Beck (though not at the same time with Stewart) and originally was the rhythm behind Vanilla Fudge. Not surprisingly, his best effort on "Foot Loose and Fancy Free" is a second remake of "You Keep Me Hanging On" with former Vanilla Fudge leader Mark Stein singing backup vocals. Dowd and arranger Del Newman turn this one into a concerto for funk and orchestra but it's all in good fun.
Also picking up some credits are pianist Nicky Hopkins, session guitar whiz Steve Cropper, former Seatrain violinist Richard Greene - who turns in a tasteful performance on "You're in My Heart" - and the ageless John Mayall, whose harmonica provides the ball bearings on which "Born Loose" rolls.
Dowd is more spare in his use of strings than in the past but there is plenty of natural sentiment; most notably Stewart's raspingly moving cover of Luther Ingram's chartmaker "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Wanna Be Right" and the bitter but evocative "You Got a Nerve."
Unlike "A Night on the Town," "Foot Loose and Fancy Free" has no one tune that leaps off the vinyl and screams "hit" ("I Was Only Joking." "Hot Legs," and "You're in My Heart" sort of whisper it). Overall, though, this new release is more subtle and more reliant on fundamentals for its strength.