Rod Stewart, one of the most prolific cover song performers around, is also an underrated songwriter. While his first two solo albums after departing The Faces included several cover songs – sterling versions of Dylan’s “Only A Hobo” and Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe” – his superior self-penned tunes including “Gasoline Alley” from his second proper release, and the beautiful “Mandolin Wind” from Every Picture Tells a Story are the songs that really cemented his legacy.
Several years before making love songs a fundamental part of his album song selections, “Mandolin Wind” expresses the love of a rural husband for his wife. The song, mostly acoustic, meanders along with the seasons, the tempo only increasing after the “coldest winter in 18 years.” Interestingly enough, for a song from his golden era, there have been only two mainstream covers: one by The Earl Scruggs Revue from their Strike Anywhere record, and another from The Everly Brothers on the album Stories We Could Tell.
And now, with Amy Helm, daughter of The Band’s Levon Helm, including it on her new record, This Too Shall Light, “Mandolin Wind” is experiencing a new life. Produced by Joe Henry, the template here is pretty close to the original, and coming in just under six minutes there is plenty of room to stretch the instrumentation between verses. Since the original is not necessarily genre-specific, the song from a female perspective needs no addition word-smithing to achieve the maximum emotional impact. There is an old school quality on this one that rewards the listener with new layers uncovered upon each new listen.
Listen to the album version below, then watch a live take from a few weeks ago.