I ran into a guitarist and fellow Faces fan recently and mentioned the new boxed set, and he marveled, “Isn’t Woody amazing on there?” I agreed. But if I’d run into a bassist, he probably would have said the same about Ronnie Lane; a drummer would have commented similarly about Kenny Jones, a keyboardist about Ian McLagan, a singer about Rod Stewart. No arguments here. But it’s difficult to think of the bandmates individually, because the Faces weren’t five entities, they were one – a band, in the truest sense of the word, with everything that term conjures up.
David Fricke concludes his liner notes to the package by saying, “They were the greatest rock and roll party band that ever stumbled and strummed across the face of the earth. The Faces could play it all – blues, soul, funk, country, boogie – and they played it like the world was their bar stool, and it was never closing time.” That, I would disagree with – as gangs of Beatles, Yardbirds, and Stones fans would – unless the “party” emphasis was the main criterion. Even then, the Stones would be strong contenders. The advantage the Faces have over them is that they didn’t hang around and wear out their welcome; they existed from 1969 to ’75, and, as this box amply illustrates, cranked out an abundance of consistently high-quality music in that span.
They were famous for the stumbling and drinking, but as photographer Tom Wright points out (in a letter reprinted from an issue of Discoveries magazine), they were not, as some have termed them, sloppy. They had a grungy quality, sometimes resembling reckless abandon, but they were a tight unit with talent to spare. You try handling the push/pull syncopated rhythm of “Miss Judy’s Farm.” (It’s kind of like focusing on the sandiness of Stewart’s voice and ignoring what a capable vocalist and stylist he is).
Hair-splitting aside, this set is any Faces fan’s dream come true, not to mention a great introduction to kids who think the Black Crowes actually invented their sound. McLagan produced the set, which includes 31 unreleased cuts among its 67 tracks, many of them live. From a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil” at their first rehearsals in 1969, the Faces already had an original sound and innate arranging skills, transforming the blues into something uniquely their own. This ability would serve them well over the years, whether covering Eddie Cochran (“Cut Across Shorty”), Motown (the Temptations’ “I’m Losing You” and “I Wish It Would Rain”), or Lennon and McCartney (“Jealous Guy” and “Maybe I’m Amazed,” with Ronnie Lane on lead vocal). If they’d only been a cover band, they would have been the gold standard, but the four vocalists were excellent songwriters, and even drummer Jones joined in some collaborations. More than 75 percent of the material here was penned by the Faces, usually co-written, in every conceivable combination.
With the group’s ability to rock out a given, one of the strengths the set illuminates is the boys’ singular way with a ballad – be it Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel” or Lane’s acoustic “Richmond.” And for his part, Ron Wood indeed proves he’s one of rock’s most underrated guitarists throughout – whether he’s rocking hard, supplying sensitive fills, soloing, playing slide, or crunching rhythm – but, more important, one-fifth of a great band.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.