Review Summary: Pub rock at its best. Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts and John Entwistle guest.
By 1976, it was evident that musicians who brought some of the most memorable pieces of rock music in 1960s were not young anymore and the times were changing. Pete Townshend was tired of constant touring and being the rock star (check out The Who By Numbers album for his complete tragic story), and equally talented but commercially unsuccessful Ronnie Lane had financial problems. Ronnie's albums didn't sell well (OK, they didn't sell at all), so he couldn't get a deal with a recording company. So he called Pete and asked him for a loan. Pete declined, but offered to make a record with him. Soon the studio was booked, and under the Glyn Johns' control, sessions took place in Olympic Studio in November 1976. Pete and Ronnie were friends, but there was lots of tension during the recording. First, there was Pete's temper (he and Ronnie had some fights during the recording sessions), and then was Ronnie's love for alcohol, and first signs of Ronnie's illness, multiple sclerosis began to be visible.
But the music here is intact by these distractors. Here, Townshend's performances sound better than on current albums made by The Who. His songs are basically The Who-ish, but that lo-fi context make it more natural. He was in period of transformation: rock opera things left him, but his demons were still with him and he was writing a wonderful confessional singer songwriter three and half minutes songs. The longest song on "Rough Mix" is his "Street In The City", melodically very beautiful but way too long and orchestra thing is over the top. Ronnie Lane's songs are more country and folk drenched, often funny, gentle and charming, and that makes a perfect balance to Pete's more commercial pop rock approach.
The biggest miracle is title track, an instrumental, which sounds like nothing special, but it grabs attention and keeps it until the end. A few of the famous friends came to help Pete and Ronnie, the most audible is Eric Clapton who provided great parts on dobro. Charlie Watts drummed on "My Baby Gives It Away" and his playing shows that the great drummer doesn't need to do a solo to be recognized. And John Entwistle played on "Heart To Hang Onto" and sang on "Till The Rivers All Run Dry". The latter one closes the album, and it is sort of surprise, because it is very inspired cover of a country standard. Both Lane and Townshend loved country, but this performance is right there with the best The Eagles' ones.
Overall feel of the album is of course laid back. This collaboration is arguably among the best, because it's rare that two acknowledged rock stars can make an album that can live up the expectations. And Townshend and Lane succeeded. At least six tracks on "Rough Mix" are classics: "My Baby Gives It Away" (could have been a great hit single), "Annie", "Keep Me Turning", "April Fool", "Heart To Hang Onto" and "Till The River All Runs Dry" with "Nowhere to Run", "Catmelody" and "Misunderstood" just a little bit slighter. Three bonus tracks are welcome but they are not necessary nor essential.
But for all fans of The Who, The Small Faces and The Faces this album is essential. Released in 1977, the year of punk, disco and silky pop, this album was on no man's land. Such a shame that Atlantic didn't promote it better. "Rough Mix" peaked at #45 in the US, while in England it was ignored. It deserved much better fate.