Monday, August 13, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1168: Little Feat

I was talking with a friend last week and he asked me if I believed in the sophomore album curse. I don’t, although I expect there are some statistical underpinnings that help feed the myth.

The first of these is that those bands that only ever make two albums typically have a bad second one – that’s what makes it their last. Another is that sometimes a band makes a bad first album but it is largely overlooked. As a result everyone thinks their sophomore album is their first record, when in fact it is just the first album that got noticed.

But most of all there are just too many amazing examples of great second albums – like this next one.

Disc 1168 is… Sailin’ Shoes
Artist: Little Feat

Year of Release: 1972

What’s up with the Cover? O boy. A woman made of cake, wearing nothing but high heeled shoes, rides a swing on the manicured front lawn of some estate. Well, one high-heeled shoe – she’s lost the other one to the forces of momentum.

But wait – there’s more! An 18th century gentleman and a giant snail look on. I’m not very good at reading the moods of a giant snail, but the 18th century gentleman seems to be taking it all surprisingly in stride. He is certainly calmer than I’d be under similar circumstances. Probably that’s because he hasn’t turned around yet to see the fabric of reality breaking down in the sky over his right shoulder.

I always wondered what the aristocracy did for fun three hundred years ago. Now I know. I expect it is much the same in modern times, only stranger.

How I Came To Know It: My friend Elaine put me onto Little Feat a few years ago when she bought me “Dixie Chicken” and “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.” I was content with those for a few years but last month I decided to dig through the rest of their catalogue. “Sailin’ Shoes” caught my attention and so…here it is.

How It Stacks Up:  I now have four of Little Feat’s studio albums which is all I want for the time being. Of those four, “Sailin’ Shoes” is in a photo finish for first place with “Dixie Chicken.” I’ll give the edge to the chicken lady, and put “Sailin’ Shoes” in at #2.

Ratings: 4 stars

Lowell George was taken from us too soon, leaving us with precious little of his musical genius. Despite his untimely death, he was here long enough to bring us some classic rock albums, and “Sailin’ Shoes” is one of his best.

While Little Feat’s first album is solid, “Sailin’ Shoes” starts a run of four consecutive albums that represent the band at its absolute height. The band has a fearless mix of southern rock, boogie woogie and some hippy flower-power action that made sense in 1972 and beats the odds by still working 46 years later.

In many ways, “Sailin’ Shoes” is Little Feat’s most straightforward album; at least as straightforward as their strange musical cocktail can be. The record opens with “Easy to Slip” which has a free wheelin’ sound that manages to simultaneously rock your world and chill it out. This is music for cruisin’ down a deserted desert highway in a convertible, hair blowing in the breeze and speedometer well beyond the good humour or forgiveness of local law enforcement.

The weird thing is that “Easy to Slip” is about the sadness of those people who aren’t in your life anymore, but Little Feat manage to turn it into a grooved out celebration. Or as Lowell George sings:

“Well I don’t want to live forever in
The shadow of your leaving me
So I’ll light a mellow cigarette
And try to remember to forget.”

Yeah, man. Lowell is telling you that life is hard, but it’s nothing that a “mellow cigarette” won’t solve.

The theme continues on the bluesy “Cold, Cold, Cold” a song about laying up broke in a cheap hotel. While it doesn’t end with the offhanded “let’s just get high” of “Easy to Slip” you get the feeling that given the choice Lowell George would rather sink into a groove than a state of depression.

The record has two songs that I originally discovered through cover versions. I first heard their classic trucker song “Willin’” as a Steve Earle cover on “Sidetracks” which is great but it is hard to beat the Little Feat original, which switches the lead melody between piano and guitar so effortlessly you don’t even realize it is happening. You just feel like this simple perfect melody has more depth than it should.

I first heard “Teenage Nervous Breakdown” as a Nazareth song when I was about five or six years old. I’ll admit in this case, I love Nazareth’s visceral proto-metal delivery, but when you hear the boogie woogie original you get an appreciation for just how good the bones are of these songs; you can interpret them multiple ways but the music always shines through.

Given this fact, maybe I should be less surprised at how Little Feat consistently sets the songs on “Sailin’ Shoes” against wild arrangements, with instruments coming in and out in a way so casual it seems whimsical, until you realize how incredibly tight the band has to be to pull it off.

The only time this bravery fails them is on the final track, “Texas Rose Café” which sounds like when you are playing one clip on Youtube and you accidentally click a second and they play on top of one another until you manage to get one paused.

However, this is the exception that proves the rule: up to that point, Little Feat had pushed their virtuosity to the limit ten times in a row and walked away unscathed every time. And while I didn’t care for “Texas Rose Café” by the time it came on I knew that all that discordance and loose overlapping was done with an artful purpose.

“Sailin’ Shoes” is an amazing record whether you are a music nerd, or just want to sit back and enjoy a beer on your back porch. Lowell George wasn’t here long, but this is an album that makes you realize he didn’t waste the time he had.

Best tracks: Easy to Slip, Cold Cold Cold, Trouble, Willin’, Sailin’ Shoes, Teenage Nervous Breakdown, Got No Shadow

1 comment:

epiphanius said...

Did not know Steve Earle had covered 'Willin'', though Linda Rondstadt and others have. Off to find that now.

Little Feat's live album has to be their best overall recording, I'd say...