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Little Feat - Rooster Rag

Rounder Records

12 tracks/58:06

There aren't many bands that have a history that spans four decades. Even fewer manage to remain relevant across most of those forty-plus years. Little Feat has managed to survive the death of founding member Lowell George, a long hiatus in the 80's and the passing of another original member, Richie Hayward, two years ago. Now the band offers up new material for the first time in nine years.

While the line-up has changed over the years, the band's signature sound remains intact - a hearty mixture of tight rhythms, excellent vocals and outstanding musical interplay. They also explore a variety of blues influences on this one, starting off with a rousing version of Mississippi John Hurt's classic, “Candy Man Blues”, featuring Paul Barrere on lead vocal as well as plenty of his distinctive slide guitar. The arrangement is fleshed out by Bill Payne, who doubles on piano and organ. Kim Wilson helps out on the closing cut, blowing some exquisite harp fills behind percussionist Sam Clayton's gruff singing on “Mellow Down Easy”.

In between, the band depicts a variety of points across their musical landscape. “There's a Church Falling Down” is a sorrowful lament with gospel overtones from Fred Tackett, whose shimmering mandolin work offers a glimpse of hope amidst the darkness. He trades vocals with Clayton on another original, “One Breath at a Time”, that has plenty of the funky rhythms that have always been a part of the band's allure. The band storms through “Jamaica Will Break Your Heart”, adding Darrell Leonard on trumpet and Joe Sublet on sax before slowing the pace on the final Tackett composition, the dream-like “ Tattooed Girl”.

Payne wrote four tunes with the help of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. 'Salome” starts out with Barrere's slide channeling the Sonny Landreth sound. The music builds as Ken Gradney's bass kicks in and Larry Campbell's violin injects a touch of the backwoods behind the group vocal. “Rag Top Down” is a tribute to classic cars and equally fine women. “Way Down Under” sets a blistering pace with Payne's organ prominently featured. The title track is a joyous celebration with acoustic slide guitar and mandolin plus Campbell's violin weaving around each other while Payne piano urges them on.

“The Blues Keep Coming” was written by Payne and drummer Gabriel Ford. It ventures into the rock side of the blues with some atmospheric guitar playing over yet another robust rhythm. The late songwriter/guitarist Stephen Bruton helped Barrere compose “Just a Fever”, which rocks as hard as anything on the disc, with Barrere's slide guitar leading the way.

If you were once a fan of Little Feat but lost track of the band over the years – or, if you have never taken the time to get familiar with the group – you need to know that they remain a formidable musical brotherhood. This project is chock full of moments that illustrate the enthralling qualities that have always invigorated the their signature sound. Let's hope that we don't have to wait another nine years for another record of this caliber! 

Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.

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