Rod Stewart's mellowing years have neatly coincided with a commitment to smart ballad choices and a generally warmer musical persona. Rod the Mod liberated at last? Like many a pop singer, Stewart returns here to what's become generally known as the Great American Songbook, that evergreen body of mid-20th century songcraft that continues to inspire singers across oceans and generations. It's said that Stewart has been vocalizing many of these songs in private for years, and given the warm, human scale of most of the performances here, it's not hard to believe. Producer Phil Ramone's spare, unobtrusive arrangements inspire the singer to some of his most subtle and rewarding performances in years. Stewart's slightly weary vocal tack handsomely suggests the smoke, booze, and aching heart that lie at the best of these songs. Such back-to-the-future efforts can often sound like a last career gasp; here, they seem a refreshing breath of fresh air.