Ask Al Stewart to sum up where he is now, musically speaking, and you’re likely to wind up two steps behind where you started; this is by no means an unusual circumstance in conversation with Al, keenly aware as he is that making a leap forward often entails taking a step backward. Sometimes it’s into the library stacks where the late historian Ms. Tuchman dug for material. Sometimes it’s into the record stacks where the late rocker Mr. Cochran made his mark as a teenager singing his “Summertime Blues” so many summertime’s ago.
In many ways, the summertime of Stewart’s 2009 much more resembled his summer of 1969 than it did the summer of 1979, when his multi-million-selling “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages” were staples of FM radio, and he was touring with saxes, synths, singers, and all the accoutrements pop stardom brings. “I don’t think I ever knew how to be in front of a band,” says Al, a little modestly. “I always felt I was loitering there while they were doing all the work.”
With the release of Uncorked, Al and musical partner Dave Nachmanoff take a trip through Stewart’s musical back pages, both in terms of the musical catalogue (they did have nearly 20 albums’ worth of songs to pick from), and in terms of performance style. After all, Al made his bones in the massively fertile folk scene that was London in the late ’60s, and he numbers among his contemporaries the likes of guitar wizards Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, singer-songwriters Roy (“Hats Off To”) Harper and Richard Thompson, and a former flatmate named Paul Simon, who went on to some celebrity upon returning to America.