Monday, 19 November 2018

Little Feat

Little Feat were an idiosyncratic, enigmatic but highly influential band that produced rhythmic rock with a funky edge throughout the seventies. I have covered their first five albums here, plus a live one

Little Feat (1971)

Snakes On Everything/Strawberry Flats/Truck Stop Girl/Brides Of Jesus/Willin'/Hamburger Midnight/Forty-Four Blues/How Many More Years/Crack In Your Door/I've Been The One/Takin' My Time/Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie                 

Released in 1971, this debut album from Little Feat was not really like their subsequent albums, with their funky, rhythmic rock that became their trademark. This one was still influenced by late sixties/early seventies country rock on cuts like Strawberry Flats, with its chunky riffs and Band-style vocal delivery. 

The songs

There were echoes of Tumbleweed Connection period Elton John too. There were also flavours of psychedelia and blues to the album in many places, such as on the opener, Snakes On Everything. It is very much an Americana album (although to be honest I feel all their albums are) and a country one too. I guess it is an American roots album, like the early ones from the Band.

Truck Stop Girl brings to mind The Rolling StonesBeggars Banquet work and The Band, once more. The plaintive, piano-driven ballad 

Brides Of Jesus is very influenced by early Neil Young. The next track, Willin'is very country-ish slide-ish blues, while the more typical Little Feat rock sound is present on the muscular guitar of Hamburger Midnight, the heaviest cut on the album. It has some searing guitar on it in the middle. 

The blues is present, big time on the six-minute Howlin' Wolf medley of Forty Four Blues/How Many More Years which is packed to the brim with blues harmonica and slide guitar.

Crack In Your Door is a rousing Band-esque number, while I've Been The One is very Jackson Browne-like in its vocal delivery, melody and lyrics. 

Takin' My Time is similar in its quiet piano/vocal atmosphere, very Elton John-esqe and the short closer Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie is a brief return to rocking Americana. Overall, this is an enjoyable, retrospective and evocative album. Although it didn't do particularly well at the time, its influence has been greater over the years.

Sailin' Shoes (1972)

Easy To Slip/Cold, Cold, Cold/Trouble/Tripe Face Boogie/Willin'/Apolitical Blues/Sailin' Shoes/Teenage Nervous Breakdown/Got No Shadow/Cat Fever/Texas Rose Cafe   

After the idiosyncratic bluesiness of their debut album, Little Feat returned with a more dynamic album, more focused and slightly more commercially appealing. It was still based around their agreeable mix of rock, blues, country and Americana, however. This album just seems a slightly more polished, fulfilled one than the debut. Little Feat were beginning to create their own unique identity on this one.                          

The songs

Easy To Slip is an upbeat slice of American road-rock, with the sort of riffs that The Eagles were to trademark over the next few years. 

Cold, Cold, Cold has some huge. chunky guitar breaks and a hard rocking, bluesy beat. Trouble is a delightful, almost soulful Band-style country blues number underpinned by an addictive accordion sound. 

Tripe Face Boogie is, as the title suggests, a lively, rocking boogie that makes you think "who does this sound like?", the you realise it sounds like Little Feat. This is very much their sound. It is a great track, loaded with searing guitar, great boogie piano and a rumbling bass.

Willin' is reworked from the first album, which sounds even more gloriously country-roadhouse on a warm evening than the previous version. The bass is further up in the mix. 

Apolitical Blues is a thumping blues with a muscular drum sound and some slow temp bluesy piano. Sailin' Shoes is even more bluesy, with a shuffling, subtle rhythm to it. 

Teenage Nervous Breakdown (also covered the following year by Nazareth) is one hell of a rocker, just over two minutes of pounding fun. 

Got No Shadow has a sumptuous bass/drum intro and is another track that helps to epitomise Little Feat's sound. When you listen to albums like this and you find yourself wondering "what does that track remind me of" you realise just how influential the music is, in that whatever it is it reminded you of invariably came after this album. The keyboard break on Got No Shadow is a good example. The guitar too. My goodness, this is a great track.

Cat Fever is another intoxicating, bassy dollop of Southern-style blues rock. A melodious, deep bass drives the soulful rock of Texas Rose CafĂ©. Big echoes of The Band on this one. Overall, though it is Little Feat who were the influencers with this excellent album. So much subsequent material owes a debt to albums like this.

Dixie Chicken (1973)

Dixie Chicken/Two Trains/Roll 'Um Easy/On Your Way Down/Kiss It Off/Fool Yourself/Walkin' All Night/Fat Man In The Bathtub/Juliette/Lafayette Railroad    

There were so many great funk bands in the early-mid seventies - The Meters, Tower Of Power, Graham Central Station and also many great country rock bands - The Doobie Brothers, The Byrds, CSNY, The Eagles. Little Feat were actually a bit of both - rock yet funky at the same time.  Many people have categorised them as a "jam" band - a band whose sound had that sort of played live feel to it.                 

The songs

Little Feat's leader and main inspiration, Lowell George, went all New Orleans for this album - it is full of sultry, swampy, hot grooves. The opening track, Dixie Chicken, is probably the most country-ish track on the album. 

The next cut, Two Trains, is a delicious slice of funky, grinding New Orleans rock, my only complaint is that it finishes too soon. 

Roll Um Easy is another short track, this time a slide guitar and bass dominated piece of pure blues. On Your Way Down is a piano and organ-driven slow burner with some addictive percussion that explores the often-quoted theme of meeting the same people on the way down that you met on the way up. It is a sumptuous piece of blues rock.

Kiss It Off is a mysterious blues with some odd synthesiser noises in it. Fool Yourself is a laid-back agreeable song and Walkin' All Night is a soulful, grinding, cookin' on a medium heat blues with some excellent guitar. This is an extremely mature record, if you think that much 1973's output was in the poppy-glam mould. There was nothing remotely commercial about this album. It was a proper, serious album. 

Fat Man In The Bathtub is rhythmic and lively but quite what it is about I still have no real idea, other than it sounds as if it could be slightly ludicrous. 

Juliette is relaxing, late night rock and Lafayette Railroad is a beguiling instrumental closer to the album.

The album is in need of a remastering, however. The sound is ok, but it could be improved upon. Overall, however, it is an interesting album to dig out every now and again and realise how, at times, US rock like this was considerably ahead of its time.

Feats Don't Fail Me Now (1974)

Rock 'n' Roll Doctor/Oh, Atlanta/Skin It Back/Down The Road/Spanish Moon/Feats Don't Fail Me Now/The Fan/Medley: Cold Cold Cold/Tripe Face Boogie

This was Little Feat's fourth album and builds on the solid foundations of Dixie Chicken. People knew what their brand of rocking Southern blues was all about by now. This is one of their most confident, realised offerings.          

The songs

Rock 'n' Roll Doctor is a funky, swampy, bluesy slice of down 'n' dirty groove. It pretty much exemplifies Little Feat's music in one cut. 

Oh, Atlanta is a Status Quo-esque riffy Southern rocker that doesn't let up for is three minutes. It features some killer barroom piano in the middle. The guitar near the end is sublime too. 

A funky Meters-esque drum introduces the funky Skin It Back. This is a great cut, with infectious rhythm and percussion. Some wonderful organ swirling around too.

Down The Road just drips with instinctive Little Feat soul-funk-rock. It is another track that sums up what they were as a highly influential band, in retrospect. Intoxicating bluesy guitar is all over this one. 

Spanish Moon has a great soulful sound to it. The horns are muscular and resonant. These albums have not been remastered but, you know, it doesn't matter, they sound great anyway. 

Feats Don't Fail Me Now is also packed full of bluesy rhythm with that boogie piano playing its part once again.

The Fan is a rock-ish, organ-driven groover. A bit proggy in places, would you believe. Quirkily appealing. Great drumming. Ditto guitar. 

The final Medley, for some reason, includes two tracks from the Sailin' Shoes album from 1972. They sound good, though. A highly recommended album from a band at their peak.

The Last Record Album (1975)

Romance Dance/All That You Dream/Long Distance Love/Day Or Night/One Love Stand/Down Below The Borderline/Somebody's Leavin'/Mercenary Territory

This was the last album from the classic 1970-1975 era for Little Feat. I have read some critics say that it is a "flat" album and that you can feel the tension and so on, as the band near a turning point in their career. Personally, I really don't see that. I think it's great. The sound and funky feel is wonderful, to me, anyway. Some have said it is too short. Maybe, but weren't all their albums?

The songs

Romance Dance is a typical slab of Little Feat funk/rock, with a full, muscular, punchy sound to it. Similarly, All That You Dream is big, bassy, powerful and full of funky rocking thump. There is a real soul to this that I love. The guitar and drum sound is superb, if you ask me. 

Long Distance Love is a beautifully laid-back piece of Southern soul rock with a bit of an Eagles feel to it. Day Or Night has an infectious, shuffling drum intro and another relaxed funky vibe to it. It is six minutes long and ends with a jazzy drum solo.

One Love Stand is very representative of Little Feat - rhythmic, soulful but with that country rock groove to it. Check out the killer guitar solo in the middle. 

Down Below The Borderline continues in the same vein, almost Steely Dan-esque in places. Somebody's Leavin' has a country soul feeling to it. 

Mercenary Territory is the sort of thing Traffic were starting to put out around now. I must admit I don't quite get the "flat" accusations. In many ways this is my favourite Little Feat album, but that's just me.

Waiting For Columbus (1978)

There is only one Little Feat live album from their glory years of the mid/late seventies. This one. Now released in remastered and extended "deluxe" format, it has this seminal funky rock band captured at their best.
Unfortunately, it is just a few years after their absolutely peak years, but, for me, it still sounds revelatory. Indeed, so many of the tracks put their studio versions to shame (particularly as the studio albums are still in dire need of a remastering). Most of the songs are extended, with added little bits of virtuoso musicianship added to them. Yes, some of them extend a little too far into "jam" territory, but that is not really a bad thing, it is what you expect from a seventies live album, to be honest. It is recorded over a couple of gigs from 1977, from London's Rainbow and Washington, DC, so it is not one full concert recording, but the continuity is still there and it sounds like a full show, to be fair.

There are lots of earlier gigs from Little Feat, from 1973, 1974 and 1975 floating around on "legal" bootlegs derived from Radio Broadcasts - the Transmission Impossible three gig set, which includes American Cutie from 1973, Electric Lycanthrope from 1974 and Hellzapoppin' from 1975. "AC" suffers from hissy sound, "H" is muffled and desperately low volume, while "EL' is the best of them, sound-wise. These catch the band at the height of their powers, while this 1978 recording is apparently from when the band were descending into decline. You would never have believed it. They sound great. The "bootleg ones", while being from the group's halcyon years do not compensate enough, for me, for the vastly superior sound on this 1978 one. I will stick with this one, for sonic reasons. The band sound full, bassy and pumping, as they should.

So many tracks, too many to analyse track by track, which would be pretty pointless, but a few of highlights are All that You Dream and a stunning, bluesy romp in Old Folks BoogieFat Man In The Bathtub sounds great too, and the band sound like they are enjoying it. Dixie Chicken is stretched out to a rocking nearly nine minutes, and is far more rock than country in this incarnation, with some great piano and brass improvisation. It segues into a barnstorming Tripe Face Boogie, which is an exhilarating, pulsating delight. A highly recommended live album.

I am going to link Little Feat here with Ry Cooder. Check out his work :-

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