Unplugged... and Seated

Let's start with truth in pack-aging: Rod Stewart's Unplugged ... and Seated is packed to the gills with clichés. It's mostly oldies. It's got a guest star, Stewart's former Faces sidekick Ron Wood. It finds the band pretending there's something special about playing a few rockers on acoustic guitars. It has the star make a few old-guy jokes.

It plays things pretty much by the book, in other words, and as such would hardly be worth bothering with save for one thing — the singing. Because no matter how clichéd the format might seem, Stewart puts enough heart into his performance to remind us of what made these songs matter in the first place.

Some of it seems to be the spirit of the evening, as Stewart feeds happily off Wood's ragged rhythm work on "Cut Across Shorty" or pulls an almost improvisatory energy from the loose-limbed groove of "Highgate Shuffle." But mostly it's a matter of Stewart's bringing his songs to life in a way few other rockers have ever managed. It's one thing to joke, in "Reason to Believe," that he cut the song when his wife was only a year old, quite another to offer a version of "Maggie May" that leaves the listener believing he really does have to get back to school.

Not only does Stewart do both, but he delivers the goods with such grace that it's tempting to ignore the few moments when the album really does come up short. What could be a better reason to believe than that?

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