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"Rough Mix" Review
by David Fricke
Rolling Stone, 1 April 1999
* * * *
Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane
Rough Mix
MCA, 1977
REISSUED BY ATLANTIC, 1989

"Rough Mix" is a great album, the kind rock stars often make when they're not fretting about making a Great Album. In late 1976 and early '77, when they made Rough Mix at Olympic Studios, in London, the Who's Pete Townsbend and ex-Face Ronnie Lane were in similar, bittersweet straits: caught between the dawn of punk and the onset of middle age, addicted to the seesaw thrills of the rock life, hanging on to sanity as devotees of the Indian guru Meher Baba. For Rough Mix, the pair took a holiday from career madness, roped in friends like Eric Clapton and organist John "Rabbit" Bundrick, unplugged the guitars (most of 'em, anyway) and made a cozy, twangy record about striking a balance between faith and frenzy.

The wistful, nondenominational spirituality of the songs and the singing on Rough Mix seems quaint, even naive. in our current age of irony. but refreshingly so. Townshend tops the supple folk-pop bounce of "Keep Me Turning" with a mix of pleading and determination in his high, gently strained voice. In "Misunderstood," he cracks wise as the willful outsider ("I want to be obscure and oblique/Inscrutable and vague, so hard to pin down") in a boyish croon lined with loneliness. Lane's tender, warbly stoicism in the real-ale folk blues of "Nowhere to Run" and "Annie" sounds especially prescient; in 1977, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which would finally kill him in 1997.

With a spatial blend of acoustic guitars, mandolins and banjos, Townshend and Lane put a spiffy, village-pub-band spin on American roots rock, with hints of Townshend's sharp, spare song demos for the Who and the Yorkshire country charm of Lane's great Seventies band, Slim Chance. And to hear Townshend and Lane trade verse and chorus in "Heart to Hang on To" is to hear two aging, stubborn ex-mods singing into their pints with warm, sweet soul. Before they go back to work.

 


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