50 Years Later: Revisiting Faces’ Ragged & Rightful ‘A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse’

With a half-century of hindsight, Faces’ Glyn John-produced third album ‘A Nod Is As Good As a Wink… to a Blind Horse’ (released 11/17/71, and second in ’71) accurately quantifies perception of the band as ersatz Rolling Stones. With their natural predilection to rock, along with a flamboyant frontman, plus a penchant for turning sloppiness into a virtue (see the many live cuts on the splendid box Five Guys Walk Into A Bar…), this quintet also possessed the very real asset of bassist Ronnie Lane: he was spotlighted here more than before as a reliable composer of material that, standing in such marked contrast to the larger portion of the group’s repertoire, further highlighted its own charms.

Unfortunately, such compositions got somewhat short shrift on what was otherwise Faces’ most commercially successful album. Recording under the supervision of stern taskmaster Johns (collaborator with the Beatles, Eagles and the Who among others), during the very period Rod Stewart’s solo career took off with Every Picture Tells A Story, released in May of this same year, the quintet clearly wanted to distinguish their work from the lead vocalist’s. In this effort to transcend its identity crisis, however, the results were mixed. For instance, Lane’s “Debris” would have benefited from substituting acoustic slide work for the overly busy electric guitar of Ronnie Wood: the latter too often interrupts a fragile mood better otherwise sustained by Ian McLagan’s organ playing. A more understated arrangement better suits “Last Orders Please,” another subdued tune the diminutive author sings with a plaintive delicacy.

Future Rolling Stone Woody is more in his element on Chuck Berry-derived uptempo numbers like “Miss Judy’s Farm” and “Too Bad.” His chunky, jagged tones also rightfully dominate Faces’ biggest hit, “Stay With Me,” and while that tune’s bawdy tale (like “You’re So Rude”) is now the definition of politically incorrect, it nevertheless captures the unabashed musicianship of this group in all its glory: while jamming for these guys invariably means just double-timing the rhythm of such a tune, with drummer Kenny Jones bashing away for all he’s worth, it’s an accurate representation of a devil-may-care attitude that eventually got the best of them.

At this juncture, however, Stewart was still comfortable in the mix as singer and songwriter, as much for a comparatively quiet track like “Love Lives Here” as the raucous, blues-derived slide guitar showcase of “That’s All You Need.” A fitting closer that precedes two live BBC cuts on a 2015 expanded reissue, it also follows the homage to Faces’ greatest influence in the form of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis,” a gesture of humility that also highlights what a vivid storyteller is the ‘Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (just how autobiographical is it?). It’s proof positive Faces could be disciplined…if they chose to be.

Apart perhaps from recent sessions with Wood, Stewart, and Jones, fifty years ago was the last instance of such self-restraint. By the time Faces got around to recording another album, Ooh La La, Rod the Mod was conspicuously absent so much of the time that Woody took the lead vocal on the title tune and Lane became so disenchanted with competition between the band and Stewart’s solo endeavors, he quit the group for which he’d been a linchpin since their days as the Small Faces (with Steve Marriott).
Thus disappeared the chemistry and camaraderie that fully crystallized on A Nod’s As Good As a Wink To A Blind Horse, after slow but sure progression on the first two Faces LPs, The First Step (the initial work to feature the singing/guitaring recruits from the Jeff Beck Group) and Long Player, In retrospect, that solidarity remains redolent even now, thereby reaffirming the truism of this album’s title.

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