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Little Feat - Join the Band Print E-mail
Friday, 12 September 2008
ImageLittle Feat has been one of the most important musical entities in my life (so far). They’ve provided me with a vantage point into a mix of music as down home as my grandmother’s fried chicken and as left field as Carl Yastrzemski at Fenway. I was but a wee lad when I heard Zappa’s “Willie the Pimp” followed up by the Feats “Sailin’ Shoes” and you just know that event had to change me forever. I still have Rhythmia Featlemania. There is no cure.

Join the Band, the Feat’s latest on 429 Records, makes me happy on many, many levels. It’s them reinventing classic songs, giving us a few new gems, and working to expose their music to a whole new audience by bringing in big stars.  By making good song choices, inviting the right artists and ensuring the recordings themselves are so clean and well mixed it’s frightening, the Feat prove my unabashed love for them has been warranted and worthwhile. When Join the Band is good it’s off the charts good and when it’s less good it’s still really really good. Even with Jimmy Buffet heavily involved.

“Join the Band” was a backstage warm up used as a prologue for their live album Waiting for Columbus and isn’t included here, but the opener is the same as for that classic recording “Fatman in the Bathtub.” “Fatman” takes on a little more of a tropical lilt, perhaps the result of recording in Buffet’s Florida studio, but kicks into gear with a surprising Dave Matthews vocal and tasty slide from Sonny Landreth. Sonny Landreth and Dave Matthews. I never thought I’d write that sentence. With bassist Kenny Gradney and drummer Richie Hayward laying down their rock solid Feat foundation and Shaun Murphy wailing percussion behind them, it’s syncopated bliss. Little Feat has always played the music of America. It’s all there, from one album to the next. Country, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Folk, Experimental, you stir their music up and you’ll find the true red white and blue. From odd-metered workouts like “The Fan” and “Day at the Dog Races” to the pure country of the greatest truck driving song ever written, “Willin’” (which is on Join the Band and features Brooks & Dunn) and on to the Cajun stylings of “Rad Gumbo,” they’ve never had to push boundaries because they’ve never had any. When the Feat play a straight ahead old time rock and roll number like “Something in the Water” behind Bob Seger (Shaun Murphy’s a long time member of the Silver Bullet Band), it sounds as authentic as when they work out on the New Orleans classic “Don’t You Just Know It.” When they fire up “Dixie Chicken” Vince Gill’s pure country tenor explores a rootsy vocal territory he’s never wandered into before, and it’s easy to see how far- and wide-ranging Little Feat’s pallet of American music travels.

There are so many highlights on Join the Band that I couldn’t list them all and convince you I’m not making it up, but here’s a few: Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes lets it all hang out on “Oh Atlanta.” He actually sounds like he can’t wait to sing his next line. Craig Fuller, former Feat and Pure Prairie League vocalist, returns to add vocals to “Spanish Moon” while Vince Gill tosses in a tasty guitar solo. Now I’m convinced I’ve got to play closer attention to Gill. And when I heard how they tacked the Robert Palmer arrangement of “Sailin’ Shoes” (plus fiddle) onto the end of the traditional molasses slow version I almost did a cocktail spit take. I hadn’t played Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley in years and I had to go dig it out and spin it a few times. Sweet funk ‘n roll from another missing person.

The unadulterated gem on Join the Band is Inara George’s version of “Trouble.” With only keyboardist extraordinaire Bill Payne accompanying her, she sings one of her father’s most poignant songs as if he’d written it for her. During a bad period I played this song before going to bed every night and it still tugs at my heart. Her delicate voice wrapped around the lyrics “your eyes are tired and your feet are too/ and you wish the world was as tired as you” is superbly understated in its beauty and simplicity. And to paraphrase Bonnie Raitt, “I miss Lowell George like I miss my childhood.” Luckily his daughter is working really hard to live up to his legacy.

I have a couple of small bones to pick but they’re probably more the result of my personal tastes than there being anything wrong with Join the Band.  Mike Gordon, the bass player from Phish, joins in on “This Land is Your Land” and it seems like he was added so Phish fans would climb aboard. It’s my least favorite cut but still impressive. Even members of Phish can’t kill a song with a Paul Barrere vocal on it. 

Jimmy Buffet alters a few of the lyrics on “Time Loves A Hero” and I don’t know if its because he can’t remember them or he’s changing them for artistic reasons but hell, he’s singing with the Feats and his vocals on “Champion of the World” aren’t really that bad so I’ll just stop my bone picking right there.

And can I let this review go past without mentioning Sam Clayton and Fred Tackett by name? If I did I’d have to be crazy…-er.

In a just world, the Brooks and Dunn version of “Willin’” would climb straight to the top of the Country Music charts, “Something in the Water” would go into the AOR Top Ten and the 4:20 crowd would embrace “Fatman in the Bathtub” like a smoke-filled bong. I know the chances of that happening may be slim, but I have hopes. You see, it’s one of the symptoms of Rhythmia Featlemania, the never ending compulsion to infect people with something that’ll be good for them, the music of Little Feat. The most important and under-rated band in America. Everyone can love them as much as I do and Join the Band is a good place to start. It’s a fever that’s really worth catching.      
I downloaded these iTunes Plus ACC files from iTunes and I’m surprised how good it sounds on all of my various music listening devices and systems. The production by Bill Payne, and Buffet cohorts Mac McAnally and Alan Schulman, is about as good as it gets. The mix, recording of instruments, and arrangements are simply incredible. I haven’t heard an entire Buffet recording since the ‘80s but if they sound this clean it’s no wonder a bunch of people wear parrots on their heads and get drunk ‘til they puke rainbows. And that’s just at home listening to it on their CD player.

The Feats have always been at the forefront of capturing the best sound by using all of the technologies available to them, so in that aspect it’s no surprise to have something this pristine come out of their camp. If I was able to buy a lossless version of Join the Band I’d do it in a heartbeat and happily play if for all my neighbors to enjoy.

If you play a stringed instrument, Join the Band is an album you’ll want to pick up. There aren’t many releases that have guitar playing this incredible and well articulated, especially for those of you who love the slide. You can listen and attempt to steal a riff here and there, but overall it is very intimidating. Me? I’m not even going to play anything for awhile.

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