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Rab Noakes Rab Noakes
Album: Bridging The Gaps
Label: Neon
Tracks: 19+18

This fabulous 2-CD set does exactly what it says on the tin: it plugs those infuriating gaps! It finally completes the reissue of all of Rab’s back-catalogue (i.e. the officially-recorded albums) on CD – all but one (Never Too Late) on Rab’s own Neon label. Bridging The Gaps collects together the complete contents of three LPs – two eponymous albums (the A&M release from 1972 and the MCA one from 1980) and Restless (which appeared on Ringo Starr’s Ring O’ Records label in 1978) – together with a number of extra tracks cut at the various album sessions. This is a rare example of a self-confessed mopping-up exercise that doesn’t present a package of makeweight material or contractual-obligation albums but instead delivers a worthwhile and desirable collection with considerable appeal outside of the dedicated enthusiast of the artist concerned.

Although these original releases span nearly a decade, they nevertheless display an extraordinary consistency in terms of quality of songwriting and recording, while Rab’s own performances exude a freshness that was absent from so many singer-songwriter-based albums of the time. It was all the more surprising that none of these albums sold particularly well at the time, since the music was supremely accessible, very classy and presented with impeccable musicianship from all concerned. I wonder in retrospect, was the end product just too good to achieve true crossover status (i.e. by so ably straddling the divide between folk, country and pop did it preclude appealing significantly to either camp)?

The 1972 album has a great live-in-the-studio feel; it was produced by Bob Johnston, and utilised a small crew comprising some of Rab’s long-time musician friends. The overall idiom was an affectionate down-home blend of folk and country, which was epitomised in the choice of the disc’s one cover, Utah Phillips’ Goodnight-Loving Trail as much as in the abundantly catchy, memorable invention of the original songs, several of which I feel sure had equal roots appeal and hit-single potential. And Miles Away, usefully included here as a bonus track, was far too good to be relegated to a non-album B-side.

Six years on, and following in the wake of Rab’s mid-70s albums Red Pump Special and Never Too Late, came the LP Restless, produced by Terry Melcher and granted a definitively late-70s studio sound with all due radio-friendly presence (attributable no doubt to the use of the then-new-on-the-block Aphex Aural Exciter kit!). Rab’s prolific and consistently savvy songwriting was brought out proudly in full-bodied and vibrant musical arrangements that featured the talents of the likes of Richard Brunton, Aly Bain, Mel Collins, Tommy McCarthy and a host of backing singers including Gerry Rafferty, Joe Egan, Barbara Dickson and Charlie Dore. It was a classy and quality set, with no weak links. Its puzzling comparative lack of commercial success may only have been down to the major-label status and exposure enjoyed by Gerry Rafferty’s City To City album which came out the same year. (Indeed, the present reissue marks the first time I’ve ever heard the complete album!) The two bonus tracks are out-takes: Same Old Place and a recently unearthed “rehearsal” cover of Save The Last Dance For Me.

Rab’s 1980 MCA album featured a cast of hand-picked musicians retaining Messrs Brunton and Collins from the earlier album and adding (among others) Rod Clements, Liam Genockey and Paul Jones. To its ten tracks is appended just the one extra cut, a single/radio edit of lead song I Can’t Get Enough Of You with its pronounced soul/disco leanings. Indeed, while recognising and acknowledging the quality of the writing and playing, this set is often somewhat more mainstream, especially in terms of the musical arrangements, and for that reason alone is probably destined to be less frequently revisited than the other two albums reissued here. But even so, its songs stand up very well to the competition, and the set grows in stature on subsequent plays; also, tucked away on its tracklist there’s a wonderful little gem of an acoustic solo song Call It A Day. As far as I can see, the album’s only possible failing (a non-artistic one, I stress) is that its well-appointed nature and accomplished style and execution would perhaps have seemed mildly out of step with the prevailing musical climate by the time the new decade was getting under way.

This two-disc set makes a persuasive case for further reappraising Rab, surely an undersung talent, who (in his 50th year in the business) is still producing exceedingly good music. The reissue is worth acquiring in any event for the high quality of the music within, but doubly valuable for the avid collector of Rab Noakes albums who will have had these long-unavailable LPs on the wish-list for some considerable time.

David Kidman