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Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance 
reviewed by Phil McNeill in "Let It Rock" May 1975

"Sometimes I feel like a frustrated child/I got everything I want and there's nothing that I need/But I can't stop my brain from running wild". Thus Steve Marriott and Plonk Lane on the Small Faces debut album. "I am just a country boy, money have I none/But I got silver in the stars and gold in the morning sun". Thus Ronnie Lane ten years on.

Admirers of Hesse's little known masterpiece, Ronn Und Plonk, the companion novel to Sidd Und Artha, will be familiar with the quasi-mytical story of the young man who dabbles in the uncouth "Mod" lifestyle, has a heady dose of fortune followed by a shot of bad luck, falls in with dubious company and cons his way to even greater riches and fame (always remembering it takes two to make a deception), and then suddenly gives it all up to watch the river flow. Finally old Herman hits us with a splurge of trite, repetitive, low-key moralising in a skillful muddled style which generates a placid euphoria and the urge to write a Penguin Modern Classic. But that's more to this homely hokum than mere patience.

Slim Chance contrive to sound rather like weekending blacksmiths, corn chandlers and woodsmen with a taste for New Orleans rock'n'roll, but to do so with a subtlety born of painstaking hard work, stumbling along together so close you would think it was one man, not five. In fact it's six. Apart from "Street Gang", a lovely reggae-meets-high-life instrumental that sounds like it was recorded in the foyer of a Paddington dance hall, the basic sound is set by Lane's quaintly strained voice, Ruan O'Lochlain's soprano sax, Steve Simpson's mandolin, violin and harmonica, and Charlie Hart's accordion and fiddle, plus an echoey upright piano usually clomping about somewhere in the mix. The rhythm section, any permutation of bass/guitar/organ/drums/percussion, can swing sparse (e.g. "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter") or mesh dense but fluid, as on most of Lane's own compositions. The songs are okay, the tunes gruffly melodic, and the arrangements are excellent, the album's one real flaw being Lane's unconvincing delivery on "You Never Can Tell" and his inability to take the hidden question mark out of the chorus line, a pitfall Chuck Berry seemingly wrote in to tax other singers.

There's good brains under that straw, and there's gold in that morning sun.

Phil McNiell 1975

 


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