Tuesday, December 19, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1084: Little Feat

I got home today and jumped from one chore to another all so that when I was done I could take a deep breath and turn my soul to music. And here we are!

Disc 1084 is…Dixie Chicken
Artist: Little Feat

Year of Release: 1973

What’s up with the Cover? “Who me? You’d like me to play this accordion?” says a haughty heiress. The accordion is not the instrument of choice for your average haughty heiress (that would be the piano) but this woman appears to be the exception and that smug look on her face says she was just dying for you to ask her to bust out a song.

Side note: Little Feat has predicted how cool a smoky grey-blue hair colour would look 40 years before it became widely popular.

The background of this cover confuses me, though. Is that a giant mattress behind her or is it the wall of a padded room? Maybe her wealthy family was so embarrassed that she took up the accordion instead of the piano they had her committed. “You see Doctor, for a Shaughnessy to play the accordion instead of the piano. Why, it’s just insane.”  

How I Came To Know It: My friend Elaine bought me two Little Feat albums for my birthday a few years ago, this one and “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” (reviewed back at Disc 797). Thanks, Elaine!

How It Stacks Up:  I have two Little Feat albums and if you’ve been reading carefully, you’ll already know which two. Of the two, I put “Dixie Chicken” first.

Ratings: 4 stars

Little Feat would like you to just relax, man. If you’d like to know how that feels all you’ve got to do is settle down and lend your ear to “Dixie Chicken,” their third album and a mid-seventies masterpiece.

Little Feat is what happens when blues rock gets a healthy dose of hippy. I say ‘healthy dose’ because guitarist/singer/band leader Lowell George’s musical vision may be a bit loose and flowery, but it just feels good for the soul.

“Dixie Chicken” features some of the most interesting melodic structures I’ve heard in rock music, and despite Little Feat’s penchant for throwing every instrument they can play into the arrangement, those melodies always shine through. These songs have the organic growth of a jam session but the precision and planning of master session players.

“Dixie Chicken” has a few stories to tell, but for the most part those stories want you to just chill out. And that doesn’t mean these are easy tales, it just means life is how you take it, not what happens.

This could be you and a friend chasing the same woman, like on “Two Trains” or it could be a bit of advice about treating people right as you ascend in your chosen profession as it is on “On Your Way Down.” Whatever comes your way, “Dixie Chicken” reminds you to take it easy.

It helps that Little Feat are so adept at sitting down in the pocket of one of the mellowest grooves in rock. The guitars coo out mellow reverb and the piano meanders but never falls behind. Along the way you might get a flash of organ, or even a little jazz flute but it all just comes in right when it feels…natural.

The best example of this is vibe is “Roll Um Easy”. Just two and half minutes long, this song will have you so relaxed you’ll swear you’ve been at the spa for two and a half hours. It’s about wanderin’ the earth, and taking joy where you find it and being just as happy to settle down with a good woman when the time feels right:

“Oh I am just a vagabond
A drifter on the run
And eloquent profanity
It rolls right off my tongue
And I have dined in palaces
Drunk wine with Kings and Queens
But darlin', oh darlin'
You're the best thing I've ever seen
Won't you roll me easy
Oh slow and easy
Take my independence
With no apprehension, no tension”

Later George sings about the Concertina but doesn’t play one and extolls the virtue of singing in both harmony and unison. If all that seems odd, you need to chill out even more; there aren’t any wrong turns in the world of Little Feat.

When I reviewed the follow up to this album, “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” I mentioned that it sometimes slid into excessive noodling or self-serving jams. None of those shortcomings happen on “Dixie Chicken” which is tight as hell at 10 tracks and 36 minutes. The songs are packed with musical ideas but Little Feat gets into the jam, sorts it, and resolves it in three to five minutes. It is the perfect musical meal, leaving you satisfied but not overstuffed.

Along the way they incorporate Motown, boogie woogie, blues, soul, rock and a host of other influences and come up with something all their own.

The album ends with the slow, mellow grooves of “Lafayette Railroad” an instrumental which feels less like a railroad, and more like a set of abandoned overgrown tracks through the woods you follow down to your favourite watering hole to go skinny dipping.

I needed to relax in the worst way tonight and “Dixie Chicken” got it done. This is a record made by thoughtful musicians for thoughtful people that suggests you don’t need to get out of your own head so much as you need to find a comfy place in there to take it all in.

Best tracks: Two Trains, Roll Um Easy, On Your Way Down, Fool Yourself, Walkin’ All Night

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