Guided on a Curve: Ronnie Lane and the Band “Slim Chance,” Anymore for Anymore

The late great Ronnie Lane, bassist and vocalist for the Small Faces and later the Faces, was a lovely man—sensitive (you can hear it in every note he sings) and possessing a lively and wry sense of humor. It was that sense of humor that led him to call his post-Faces band Slim Chance. And it was accurate, in so far as Slim Chance never exactly tore up the charts. But they released some great music that deserves to be heard, much of it to be found on the band’s 1974 debut, Anymore for Anymore.

Recorded at Lane’s Welsh farm using his mobile studio, Anymore for Anymore is an eclectic affair, held together only by Lane’s sublimely moving voice. The guy injected everything he sang, high-spirited or not, with an undercurrent of nostalgic melancholy, as if he’d been born in the wrong place or time. It’s evident for all to hear in Lane’s sentimental music hall cover of Kinky Friedman’s moving “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight.”

But it’s most prominent in “The Poacher,” a lovely song with strings and organ on which Lane sings his wistful heart out, before a sublime violin enters to help take the song home. “Bring me fish with eyes of jewels,” sings the old poacher Lane encounters on the riverbank, “And mirrors on their bodies/Bring them strong and bring them bigger/Than a newborn child.” Who knew a song about fish could be so charged with longing?

“Roll on Babe” sounds like a Faces song, and its acoustic guitars and whatnot do just what the song says, while Lane’s singing makes you want to weep. “Tell Everyone” is a romantic slow burner with an almost gospel feel, that brings out the crooner in Lane and boasts a chorus that is pure lustrous beauty, to say nothing of another great sax solo by Jewell.

“Silk Stockings,” which I don’t particularly like, is reggae-tinged, and moves along at a nice clip, and its instrumentation gives it the feel of a 1930s tune, while the great “Chicken Wired” is a rambunctious romp with lots of rough and tumble acoustic guitar, a wonderfully energetic piano, and an electric guitar riff that sounds like a chicken clucking. Ronnie likes his country chicken, but he doesn’t want that one, “she’s far too scrawny.” Another great sax solo follows, and then the band sings, “Chick-chick-chick-chick-chicken.” A raucous classic, this one

The New Orleans traditional “Careless Love” is more music hall ramble-jamble, what with its spritely beat, up-front accordion, and a piano solo that does a jaunty dance a block or so through the French Quarter before stopping to take a snort from its flask and let Jewell take over, Dixieland style. As for “Don’t You Cry for Me” it’s a pleasant pop number, with Lane getting it on with the piano and sax and singing in a subdued hush, while the antique tear-jerker “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” is over before it’s hardly begun.

“(Bye and Bye) Gonna See the King” was written by Lane, but is a lovely gospel number that changes tracks about 40 seconds in, with Lane singing it in a more subdued manner than I’d like. He praises the Lord to the accompaniment of some fancy pedal steel guitar, but I wish he’d upped the Preacher factor and really raised the roof of the old church tent. The chorus that repeats the chorus towards the end makes up for it, though, as does that fundamentalist piano.

Finally we have the title track, which is great, like, times 10. Or 15. It opens like a Band song, with some great acoustic guitar and some Garth Hudson-style accordion, before Lane pours it all into the lovely melody, especially on the chorus. His voice is pure spirit, which at his best is something he shared with the Band’s Richard Manuel. And the lines, “Anymore for anymore/Hear those angels cry/But it’s not his to sell to me/And it’s not mine to buy” brings to mind Dylan and the Basement Tapes. He’s decrying the death of rural Wales at the hands of urban sprawl, but more importantly he’s mourning the death of a way of life, and telling everyone to pack their things and prepare to leave, just as if it’s Judgment Day.

Lane, who died before his time as a consequence of multiple sclerosis in 1997, spent most of his career as the number two vocalist in great bands, first in Small Faces behind Steve Marriott and then in Faces behind Rod Stewart. But the records of both bands boast bravura vocal performances—such as “Debris” on the latter band’s A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse—that will continue to please and move people until—as he sang with Pete Townshend on their 1977 album Rough Mix—the rivers all run dry.

He was essential to both bands, and he continued to make wonderful music after both were the stuff of history books. He had soul, to say nothing of a joy for life that was contagious, and it may sound absurd but I can honestly say I miss him. He felt like a friend, not a rock star. And I can’t think of any higher praise I can pay a musician.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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