Little Feat: Rooster Rag (2012)
Too often lumped in with jam bands like Phish, String Cheese Incident or Widespread Panic, Little Feat more properly belongs with The Allman Brothers Band, which developed a greater popularity early on before settling in for largely improvisatory concerts based on its own band book and covers. Little Feat diverge from the ABB in that it has released two studio albums of new material, 2003's Kickin' it At the Barn (Hot Tomato) and the present Rooster Rag, to the Brothers' 2003 Hittin' The Note (Sanctuary).
Rooster Rag reveals the same sophistication of all post-Lowell George-era Little Feat releases, except that this sophistication sounds progressive, more like the band is having a good time making the music. Rooster Rag is the first recording without original drummer Richie Hayward, who passed away in 2010 from liver cancer. Longtime drum technician Gabriel Ford takes over the drumming duties; as with George's death in 1979, all would be okay, but thjings would never be the same.
Guitarist Fred Tackett, who composed "Fool Yourself" for Dixie Chicken (Warner Brothers, 1973), has taken a larger songwriting role, with contributions like the neo-Southern soulful "Church Falling Down" and "Tattooed Girl." Tackett brings a softer voice to the group, one more impressionistic. Keyboardist Bill Payne takes on a songwriting partner in Robert Hunter, who was long associated with the Grateful Dead, for a spate of smart songs including the strangely apropos title piece, as well as several others.
This album is something other than greater than the sum of its parts. The blanket presence of Paul Barrere's underrated slide guitar causes this disc to reveal that these seasoned musicians can still draw from their peers. Payne/Hunter's "Salome," "Rag Top Down" and "Way Down Under," and Tackett's "One Breath at a Time" all bear the influence of slide guitarist Sonny Landreth's unique style, being assimilated by Barrere in his own slide guitar playing. Barrere does not merely imitate, as he is too great a guitarist for that. Rather, he incorporates Landreth's method to great effect. His distinctive vocals open the disc with the band's concert standard, Mississippi John Hurt's "Candy Man Blues." The disc closes with percussionist Sam Clayton singing Willie Dixon's contribution to Little Walter Jacobs' "Mellow Down Easy." This is a fine evolution of a respected American band.
Track Listing: Candy Man Blues; Rooster Rag; Church Falling Down; Salome; One Breath at a Time Just a Fever; Rag Top Down Way Down Under; Jamaica Will Break Your Heart; Tattooed Girl; The Blues Keep Coming; Mellow Down Easy.
Personnel: Paul Barrere: guitars, vocals; Sam Clayton: percussion, vocals; Gabriel Ford: drums; Ken Gradney: bass; Bill Payne: keyboards, vocals; Fred Tackett: guitar, mandolin, trumpet, vocals; Larry Campbell: violin; Darrell Leonard: trumpets; Joe Sublet: Saxophones; Johnny Lee Schell: vocals and guitar; Kim Simmons: harmonica.