Mick Ronson: Play Don't Worry
March 9, 1975
The Washington Post
by Charles Bermant
WHEN DAVID BOWIE and the Spiders from Mars barnstormed America almost two years ago they managed to astound anyone who saw them perform. The Spiders maintained a phenomenal energy level throughout their performance; they were simply the most exciting rock act to tour the States in eons. Almost all the band's material was written by Bowie, and he was responsible for the staging as well as providing the focal point for the futuristic show. But his focus was challenged by Mick Ronson, a guitarist transcending the role of accompanist. Bowie may have been the intended star of the show, but much of the productions dynamism and outrageousness originated from Ronson.
Mick Ronson first teamed with David Bowie in 1970 and was instrumental in the arranging and production of such notable albums as Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. In performance his white noise style playing was balanced by Trevor Bolder's bass gymnastics, and his recorded work showed he was as skilled in studio technique as he was in live playing. Bowie dissolved the Spiders in 1973 to pursue other ventures, and the always subordinate Ronson began his solo career.
The second Ronson album, Play Don't Worry (RCA APL 1-0681), recently released, is far better than last year's debut Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. The first album was excellent in parts, but Ronson seemed unsure of himself. The result was the inclusion of weak material and poor mixing of the vocals. Play, on the other hand, is a more assured and independent effort. Ronson had a hand in writing only four of the album's songs, but he is credited with all guitar and most vocal work and he tries his hand at bass, synthesizer, keyboards and drums. He handles all the material as wholeheartedly as if it were his own, In contrast to Slaughter, the production and mixing on the new album is almost faultless. Only on one occasion, a rendition of 'The Girl Can't Help It,' are the vocals lost in the mix. The printing of Ronson's pleasantly unsophisticated lyrics emphasizes their awkwardness, but they sound much better than they read.
Ronson's live role with the Spiders was that of lead guitarist, his tonal expertise combined with sheer volume produced some wonderfully frenetic guitar work. For the most part his playing is more subdued on his own records, but at times he releases all inhibition. His guitar wails through 'Angel No. 9' and he recalls his live work with 'White Light/White Heat.' Fast-fingered bassist Trevor Bolder and pianist Mike Garson recreate their Spider roles. Overzealous drummer Aynsley Dunbar sometimes borders on sloppiness, but adequate percussion work is supplied throughout the album by Paul Francis, Richie Dharma and Tony Newman.
The overall tone of the album is gentler than Slaughter or any of the work with Bowie. This is felt through two Ronson originals, that lead off side two, 'Play Don't Worry' and 'Hazy Days'. Laurie Heath's 'This is for You' is embellished by soothing multi tracked harmonies, and Sid Sax leads an ample string section through 'The Empty Bed.'
The original version of 'The Empty Bed,' 'Io Me Ne Andrei' was done by Italian crooner Claudio Baglioni. Ronson's English lyrics are not a literal translation, but the ultra-romantic sentiments are left intact. An Italian music/English lyric fusion, 'Music is Lethal,' was attempted on Slaughter on Tenth Avenue but it failed because the involved lyrics wee unsuited to the frail melody. 'The Empty Bed,' on the other hand, works perfectly. Ronson has become an assured vocalist, signing in his best saccharine tinged voice. His vocal proficiency allows him to handle the hard and the soft with equal finesse.
According to his manager, Ronson is planning a large hall tour with Ian Hunter this spring. In the immediate future, Ronson will probably serve Hunter in much the same way he served Bowie. But however he expresses himself, be it solo or with Bowie, Hunter or even Jagger, Mick Ronson is a presence that will be felt and Play Don't Worry is an excellent sample of his musical talent.