Over the years there have been many records that have been given the tag, “lost classic” or “forgotten masterpiece”, and perhaps many of them are. But we like to think that this Dave Mason album released in June 1970 in America truly is the real deal.
Dave had left Traffic and gone to the West Coast where he had met producer Tommy LiPuma who signed him to his, Blue Thumb Records – a label whose smattering of releases since 1968 included Captain Beefheart’s Strictly Personal, Aynsley Dunbar’s Retaliation and W.C. Fields’s, Anyone Who Hates Dogs and Children Can’t Be All Bad.
Mason’s reputation was such that he attracted some of the best musicians around including some from Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishman band. There’s Leon Russell, drummer, Jim Keltner, guitarist, Don Preston and singers Claudia Linnear and Rita Coolidge. Drummer, Jim Gordon and bass player Carl Radle, were also in the Cocker band and they, soon after recording Alone Together, become the Derek and the Dominos’ rhythm section; Larry Knechtel who played the piano on Bridge Over Troubled Waters also plays bass on Mason’s album. You get the picture, it really was the best musicians that could be assembled in 1970.
Recording was at Sunset Sound and Elektra Recording Studio with Bruce and Doug Botnick handling the engineering and Tommy LiPuma and Dave himself acting as producers; Al Schmitt did the mixing. We namecheck them because it’s the ‘sound’ of this record that is one of its strengths. It really did ‘play’ better than so many records at the time.
Aside from the brilliant musicianship what shines though on this record is Dave Mason’s song writing, there is not a dud among the eight tracks. The album opens with ‘Only you Know and I Know’, which could so easily have been a track from Mad Dogs – it has all the trademarks. ‘Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving’ is the musical polar opposite from the groove of the opener. It is a delicate ballad that features Dave’s plaintive vocals; so often over-shadowed in Traffic by Stevie Winwood.
‘Waitin’ On You’ is back in the groove with some funky electric piano from Leon Russell. Side one of the original record closes with the stately, towering, ‘Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave’ that is one of the real stand out tracks; it features Mason’s brilliant wah-wah guitar – the best since Eric Clapton’s ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’, Leon Russell’s piano is just as superb.
‘Sad and Deep as You’ opens the second side and is another reflective song from Dave and it again shows that he’s no slouch in the vocal department. ‘World In Changes’ is a great song, acoustic layered guitars build under Dave’s vocal and the track brings out the best in the musicians – so tight and together. Russell’s organ underpins the whole track and he’s allowed a great solo towards the end of the song.
The penultimate track, ‘Just A Song’ is redolent of The Band and the beginnings of Americana, with its banjo motif and the gospel infused backing vocals from Bonnie Bramlett, Claudia, Rita and co. The album’s closer is arguably its best track, ‘Look at You Look at Me,’ a song Mason cowrote with Traffic’s drummer, Jim Capaldi, who also plays on it with his trademark tight sound. This is one of those songs that you can play to people and they will instantly ‘get it’. It’s quintessential 1970s rock…and that’s no bad thing.
When the album came out Billboard said, “Mason with help from friends Jim Capaldi and Leon Russell proves his mastery of the rock idiom once and for all. The lyric content and music content of every song catches the senses of the listener and creates excitement.” That sorta nails it, but this is an album that will take repeated listenings, trust us, we’ve been playing regularly for 45 years. It also reminds us that 8 songs does make an album, less can so often be more. Alone Together is perfection.
As a little footnote, when the original LP came out it was a masterful piece of packaging, designed and photographed by Barry Feinstein and Tom Wilkes. Housed in a triple gatefold sleeve, a die cut triple fold-out picture jacket, with Dave’s head and top hat popping up when you opened the record. A number were pressed with marbled vinyl. It was impossible to see the grooves and it made it appear that the needle was floating above the record.