Stealers Wheel sounds like the Beatles, Fairport Convention, and Steeleye Span mixed into something all its own. Lyrically, the band’s approach follows the vein of Randy Newman’s early work with a bit of Donald Fagen-style arch commentary thrown in for good measure.
This is the album I’d put on before leaving something behind. It’s about recognizing what doesn’t work.
Ferguslie Park would be a good soundtrack for film about how wealth and success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It would also work with the HBO series “Patrick Melrose.”
On Ferguslie Park, Stealers Wheel founders Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty polish and refine the folk-rock sound that helped catapult singles from the band’s debut to the Top 40. The duo grew up in Scotland and, as much as they were influenced by Lennon, McCartney, and Merseybeat bands, their resonating harmonies and upbeat melodies are also a product of the skiffle groups they heard in their native Paisley.
Recorded at London’s Island Studios by engineer Phill Brown with producers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Ferguslie Park features ace session musicians like saxophonist Steven Gregory and veteran Beatles string arranger Richard Hewson. The catchy pub rock claims a sharper edge than the group’s previous efforts. But despite consistent songwriting, the album’s charting singles (“Star” and “Good Businessman”) lacked the staying power of the band’s 1972 hit “Stuck in the Middle With You.” The record’s absence of commercial success also owed to Rafferty’s bitter disdain for music executives and distaste for the trappings of business in general (a running lyrical theme), which likely prevented the band’s records from being reissued or getting long-term radio play. (Spreading the word about Stealers Wheel still remains difficult: None of the group’s albums are available on any streaming service.)
Indeed, the duo’s cynical and sometimes acidic lyrics—which hide in the guise of jaunty, acoustic folk songs—set Stealers Wheel apart from much of the first wave of the British Invasion. It’s difficult to find a better example of a sarcastic lament than Rafferty’s “What More Could You Want” until you hear the duo sing, “Everyone’s agreed that everything will turn out fine” on the album’s rollicking final track.
Intervention Records’ effort to rescue Ferguslie Park from relative obscurity is an unqualified sonic success. Remastering engineer Kevin Gray took a half-inch 30 ips safety copy of the original stereo master tape and produced a full-throated, emotionally engaging version of Egan and Rafferty’s vision. Compared to the somewhat compressed U.K. original pressing, drums and bass now have a more realistic punch. Once-muddy cuts like “Waltz” and “Who Cares” possess a surprising degree of air as well as clarity throughout the upper register and midrange. My ruler-flat RTI pressing is dead quiet and Stoughton Printing’s luscious, film-laminated, tip-on gatefold vividly captures John Patrick Byrne’s Hieronymus Bosch/Salvador Dali-influenced cover art.
*VinylReviews.com is owned and operated by Intervention Records’ Founder Shane Buettner.
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