critic’s pick 316: ronnie lane, ‘ooh la la: an island harvest’

ooh la laJust the fact that a major record label even remembers Ronnie Lane stands as a modest triumph. That it scoops together a collection of singles, album tracks, concert recordings and more for an anthology like Ooh La La: An Island Harvest – is, in modern pop terms, a freakish commercial anomaly.

Lane co-founded The Small Faces (of Itchycoo Park fame) in 1965 before the band morphed into simply The Faces (the troupe that cemented the careers of Rod Stewart and Ron Wood) at the dawn of the ‘70s. By 1973, Lane had had enough. He walked away from The Faces, retreated to a farm on the Welsh-English border and re-imagined pop music as a vehicle for carnival style whimsy – a mixture of Dylan-inspired wordplay, traditional folk settings built around acoustic strains of mandolin and strings and a reedy, soulfully imperfect singing voice with a boozy spirit that was undeniably rock ‘n’ roll.

In the early ‘90s, Lane was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and staged two huge all-star benefits on both sides of the Atlantic that not only raised considerable funds for MS research but set the standard for high profile benefit concerts years before Live Aid.

He lived out his final years in Texas and Colorado before succumbing to MS in 1997 at age 51.

Ooh La La (coincidentally, also the name of Lane’s swansong album with The Faces) reverts back to a more innocent time when Lane and his Slim Chance band roamed England with a sort of countryside dancehall sound. The duality of that music is reflected here in two versions of Anniversary – the 1974 original recording that matched Lane’s restless lyrics with a tasteful sweep of strings and a previously unreleased alternate take that borders on pub style honky tonk.

From there, Ooh La La runs from the beautifully orchestated Slim Chance gem The Poacher that seemed to speak directly to Lane’s post-Faces mindset (“I’ve no use for riches and I’ve no use for glory”) to a killer eight-song BBC set from 1974 full of the folkish charm and delightfully rag tag delivery that defined Lane’s best work. The set, as well as the album, ends with Ooh La La’s title track – an ode to youthful naivety that remains a loving postscript for a forgotten rock renegade who spent so much of his career merrily outrunning stardom.

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