Back when I was a teenager, I saw an album in the discount rack at Goodwill and bought it based on the cover art alone. Featuring a giant jackalope, a jellomold of the Hollywood Hills and lots of bright colors, “Little Feat’s” The Last Record Album became a staple in my listening library.
Over the years, I’ve been either a real fan or a casual listener. The band’s consistent jam-band approach has stayed the same but I’ve changed so I’m not always into what the band produces. However, one listen to Rooster Rag, the band’s 16th studio recording, brought me back into the fold completely. The band mixes together rock, jazz and more into a complex but easy to listen to musical mélange.
When founding member, drummer and vocalist Richie Hayward died, “Little Feat” suffered the band’s greatest loss since the early death of founder Lowell George. The group has rounded up some great replacements though and their contributions have moved “Little Feat” forward while not removing the past. New drummer Gabe Ford performs inventively throughout, creating right in-the-pocket parts with long time members bassist Kenny Gradney and percussionist Sam Clayton. The fun these three had developing their parts almost leaps out of your speakers. It’s nearly impossible to listen to Salome, with its fine Paul Barrere slide guitar part, and not dance around the room. A song about a whorehouse that sells soul food on the side never sounded so good!
“Grateful Dead” lyricist Robert Hunter’s collaboration with keyboardist Bill Payne not only created Salome’s unusual pairing of subjects but also helped create the funky Rag Top Down, the title track’s bluegrass feel, and the trippy jam-band feeling Way Down Under.
Add in the rocker Just a Fever, a brassy ode to living life One Breath at a Time, a trumpet-introduced jazz tinged ode to a Tattooed Girl, and the crawling organ and Fred Tackett mandolin based tearjerker about relationships resembling A Church Falling Down and you’ve got an eclectic recording you’ll sink into over and over.
For a group entering its 5th decade, the challenge is to keep progressing while not losing your audience and faithful fans. With this recording, “Little Feat” has deftly accomplished this lofty goal. As Bill Payne sings in Way Down Under: “Sing your song as long as you can/Top of your lungs let the rest be damned/It’s time to find out on your own/Where your Chihuahua buried his bone.” Here’s hoping that “Little Feat” continues to sing and play as long as they can while letting us discover a few musical bones along the way.