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Were it not for Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant decision to include “Stuck in the Middle with You” for tension-heightening irony during a torture sequence in Reservoir Dogs, it’s entirely possible Stealers Wheel’s eponymous debut would be all but forgotten. The album has never been licensed for streaming and, for years, the vinyl and CD versions were out of print. It’s too bad. Band co-founders Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan collaborated with rock n’ roll royalty producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1972 to create a disc that sounds a bit like late-period Beatles and Badfinger formed a side project.
Thanks to the combination of Leiber and Stoller’s perfectionism and Abbey Road Studios engineer Geoff Emerick’s good ears, the production on Stealers Wheel teems with intricately layered pub- and folk-rock instrumentation surrounded by early 70s analog warmth and coziness. Like many songwriting duos, Rafferty and Eagan bring strengths and weaknesses to the material. Rafferty has a more engaging voice and sharper turns of phrase, but some of Eagan’s solo compositions—“Another Meaning” and “Gets So Lonely”—prove more compelling in musical structure than a number of those penned by Rafferty alone. “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which Rafferty sings, and he and Eagan wrote together, remains the standout cut.
The glory of Intervention Records’ reissue of Stealers Wheel owes to the recovered depth of Tony Williams’ bass lines, renewed heft in Rod Coombes’ drumming, and a more realistic presentation of Egan and Rafferty’s vocal interplay. By comparison, the midrange and upper register on an original U.K. pressing and a white-label promotional disc sound pushed forward with the bass dialed back. The latter may have been intentionally done to prevent needle skips on early hi-fi systems. Yet while these early discs may have sounded lively on radio, they come across as slightly harsh on a modern stereo.
An original U.S. pressing with “Ross” in the runout fares better, but a good copy is hard to find and still pales in comparison to the Intervention version, which sounds richer and more holographic. My RTI-pressed copy is flat and free of noise. Kudos also go to the old-school, film-laminated tip-on cover that restores the original nuances and textures of John Patrick Byrne’s eccentric painting.
*VinylReviews.com is owned and operated by Intervention Records’ Founder Shane Buettner.
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