Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: ''Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story Soundtrack'



Like Steven Van Zandt, Steve Stevens, Lenny Kaye, Robin, and Kato, Mick Ronson was the rare sideman who managed a degree of fame in his own right. Yet most people do not realize the extent of the guitarist’s influence on David Bowie or Ronson’s own talent. He was the ordinary bloke from Hull to Bowie’s Starman from Mars and Bowie’s main man behind the curtain. Mick Ronson wasn’t just the definitive glam guitarist; he was a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and an arranger who actually knew how to write an orchestral score (listen to “Life on Mars?” and succumb to the awe). Without Ronson, the first major phase of David Bowie’s career would have been utterly different, and most likely, not nearly as spectacular.

These are the things we learn in Jon Brewer’s 2017 documentary Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, and they are somewhat reinforced in the film’s soundtrack now receiving a vinyl and CD release via Universal Music (I received the vinyl edition for review purposes). Ronson’s work was so varied that a 14-track record couldn’t capture it in any complete way. His instrumental, arranging, and production work with Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, The Rich Kids, and Morrissey are not represented, but fortunately, rights were cleared for a dose of classic Bowie (“Moonage Daydream”, “Cracked Actor”, “Time”), Ian Hunter (“Once Bitten, Twice Shy”), Elton John (an early, epic version of “Madman Across the Water” that isn’t used in the film even though it’s a veritable Ronson demo reel), and Michael Chapman (“Soulful Lady”, another cinematic no-show).

Most importantly, there are four representatives of Ronson’s solo career, though they are limited to the material intended to be included on a third album that didn’t materialize until 1999 and the final album he recorded, 1994’s Heaven and Hull. Thus, the representation of his work continues to be lopsided on this soundtrack, and Joe Elliott’s version of “This Is For You”, a rambling bit of improvised piano from Mike Garson, and even Ronson’s own cover of “Like a Rolling Stone” are not especially essential… though that last one may miss the mark simply because a song so associated with its creator doesn’t cover well (no offense, Jimi). “Midnight Love” from Heaven and Hull may be significant because Ronson handles all of its instruments himself, but the song is muzak. Nevertheless, there is an inarguably healthy clutch of essential music on Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, and you can’t go wrong with the Elton/Bowie/Hunter-dominated first disc.
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