Towards the end of 1971 after releasing two critically acclaimed but poor selling albums Little Feat decided to disband, the following year the band reformed around their mainstay singer/songwriter/guitarist Lowell George, keyboardist Bill Payne and drummer Richie Hayward. To this congregation they added Kenny Gradney on bass, Paul Barrere on guitar and Sam Clayton on congas. This lineup entered the studio and cut the greasy Dixie Chicken, an album that made a commercial impact following extensive touring. It was certainly an album that had a marked difference from their previous work, it was centred strongly on a funky New Orleans influenced sound. Little Feat were a band that never stayed still each album saw them evolve musically sometimes in directions that didn't sit well with George who was dismayed at their growing jazz leanings in the late 1970's which caused him to disband the group in 1979.
Dixie Chicken is a portent of things to come on this album, it's funky and playful and basks in the steamy surrounds of the deep south, and the questionable virtues of a southern belle,
I've seen the bright lights of Memphis,
At the Commodore Hotel
And underneath a street lamp I met a southern belle
Well she took me to the river, where she cast her spell
And in that southern moonlight, she sang a song so well
If you'll be my Dixie chicken, I'll be you're Tennessee lamb
And we can walk together down in dixieland
Down in dixieland.
Two Trains Runnin is another great slice of funky uptempo R&B with some precise slide playing form Lowell George, the rhythm section of Gradney, Clayton and Hayward keep things tight and flowing, and then of course you add the mastery of Bill Payne into the mix, his melding of New Orleans piano and more dense synth sounds add a unique texture. Once again salacious humour is ever present,
Now there's two trains runnin on that line
One is mine and the other's a friend of mine
You know it would be all right, just fine
If the woman took one train and left the other behind.
Roll um easy takes things down a level and re-visits the more laid back country feel of their first two albums, Lowell sings of being a vagabond, a drifter who has dined in halls and palaces with kings. It's a song of the weary life of a musician, a road warrior leaving the towns and miles behind him. The band then sink their teeth into the Allen Toussaint classic On Your Way Down and they don't disappoint, there is some great keyboard work from Payne, the song is a cautionary tale, with the immortal line, "the same people that you must use on your way up, are the same one's you might meet on your way down".
Kiss It Off is an early example of where the band would eventually head, heavy moog synthesizer opening, more stretched out sonic diversions, on this track it's given context within the darkness of the song. Walkin All Night gives George room to give rein to his dexterous playing, always very tasteful and with a less is more attitude. The great thing about Little Feat is that with all this musical talent there was always room for each player to showcase their ability. Walkin All Night has a great pounding walking bass line from Kenny Gradney with a nice distorted effect. This album represents a band that had found it's groove and was ready to build upon it, from this point on the band became a huge live draw. I was fortunate to catch them live maybe it was two years ago they were down here for the Byron Bay bluesfest and they played at the Palais Theatre, they were brilliant live.