Al Stewart – Time Passages: Album Review

Esoteric Records bring us another outstanding Al Stewart package, their third to date. The excellent Time Passages album was recorded at the latter end of the Seventies as Al was redefining his image as a musical raconteur.

Release date:  15th October

Label: Esoteric Records

Format:  3 CD/DVD

After Year Of The Cat,  Al Stewart seemed to have gone off the British radar, having shed his early folk-rock image after gaining cult status with albums like Orange and Love Chronicles albums and becoming more Stateside, basing his music became geared towards the American FM  market.

So even though this album was released in 1978, I first heard it in 1981, poolside on the radio in Florida. His distinctive voice and mellow tones were superbly produced and orchestrated with the addition of a Year Of The Cat- style sax and guitar solos. It was an immediate ‘like’. The next day saw me purchasing a vinyl copy at the nearest Mall at a considerably cheaper price than I could have bought it here. Since then regular radio plays of Time Passages remind me of those hazy lazy August days in the US. Needless to say, this album has been one of my favourite Al Stewart albums and delighted that it is now being celebrated with the amazing 3CD / DVD  package.

Al was establishing himself as a musical portrayer of historical events and clearly, his personal knowledge and research has enabled his factually accurate and sensitive storytelling to stand above other artists’ attempts to retell stories from the past. In this case, he gave us a  musical portrait of the plight of the doomed Thomas More imprisoned in the Tower of London and descriptions of court life with the oncoming overthrowing of the Ancien regime in Versailles.

His current re-emergence and ability to fill British venues and stun festival audiences with his acoustic concerts with David Nachmanov or group supported by Empty Pockets (as seen at the RNCM 2019) shows his music truly stands the test of time. Every track is as refreshing now as it was back to main the early 80’s and hasn’t dated one iota. So why would  Al Stewart fans want to purchase this package already owning copies of Time Passages on vinyl, cassette and CD?

Well, like the previous excellent packages celebrating the original releases of Year Of The Cat and 24 Carrots there is a brilliant re-mastering by Alan Parsons adding clarity and precision. Then, as with other packages, there is the opportunity to hear a live performance, this one from 1978 in Chicago including tracks from Time Passages and other albums like  Sirens Of Titan and Carol from the underrated Modern Times and of course the obligatory version of The Year Of The Cat. In addition, there are alternative demo and single versions of a few Time Passages tracks plus some surprises like the lesser-known Tonton Macoute, Life In A Bottle and The Hollywood Sign.

Many similar packages offer extensive coverage of demo versions, out-takes, etc, but we are thankfully not so overindulged. Less is more is the watchword as that could be said of much of Al Stewart’s material, which is always tastefully presented. A DVD of Time Passages also supplements the studio and live recorded CDs.

A booklet,  including an interview with Al Stewart, who as with his live performances prove, is always an interesting raconteur. Also included is a facsimile poster and postcards that round off the package nicely.

This period in Al’s career was somewhat transitory in terms of musical production. He has said of his musical relationship with Alan Parsons: “We balance each other. He’s interested in sound and I’m interested in words. I think we approach recording from a  different angle  and we meet in the middle……my sound did need improving.” Alan Parsons adds: “I’ve developed more of a perfectionist attitude and it’s possibly rubbed off on people like Al.” *

In these newly re-mastered times, they have certainly hit on perfection so if you are new to Al Stewart’s music or already familiar with him you should definitely listen to Al.

*  from Al Stewart – The True Life of a Musical Troubadour  by Neville Judd

Al Stewart online: Website / Facebook / Twitter

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