Little Feat – Sailin’ Shoes – Warner Brothers Records/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab – audiophile vinyl LP

by | Feb 11, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Little Feat – Sailin’ Shoes – Warner Brothers Records/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 180-gram audiophile vinyl, Original Master Recording MFSL 1-307, 38:27 *****:

(Lowell George – guitars, harmonica, vocals; Bill Payne – keyboards, accordion, vocals; Richard Hayward – drums, percussion, background vocals; Roy Estrada – bass, background vocals; Sneaky Pete Kleinow – steel guitar; Debbie Lindsey – background vocals; Milt Holland – percussion; Ron Elliott – electric guitar.)

Little Feat is the quintessential “cult” band. Admired by critics, fellow musicians and a zealous fan base, the band seemed destined to catapult into the elite commercial echelon. Started by Lowell George, a multiple instrumentalist, singer and visionary songwriter, a unique landscape of outlaw eclecticism and peculiar observation defined this blend of rock, blues, country and gospel. Aided by the prodigious keyboards of Bill Payne (who brought a distinctly Southern feel), and the rhythm section of Roy Estrada (a fellow member of the Mothers of Invention with George) and Richie Hayward, the quartet  reinvented the folk rock music scene of the early 1970’s.

The self-titled debut release, Little Feat, a raw straightforward endeavor, achieved critical acclaim, but not commercial success. Now, with veteran producer Ted Templeman at the helm, Little Feat (the last time the original members played together) focused on the songs, and the result is evident. Expanding on the rootsy, blues influenced template, Sailin’ Shoes is a masterful collage of inventive narrative, resplendent in countercultural irony and romance.

At the core of this transformative work is George’s brilliant songwriting. Opening with an unusually listener-friendly song, “Easy to Slip”, a memorable, if not successful, single  materialized. George’s vocals are fearless, and the textured organ lines play nicely against the guitars. A second version of “Willin’” (recorded on the first LP without George on guitar) is as good as it gets. Lyrically brilliant, this tale of a romantic smuggler (perhaps with the greatest rock alliteration…Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonapah), blends trademark slide guitar with a flourishing piano accompaniment and a deft pedal steel riff (Sneaky Pete). Impeccable arrangement elevates the bizarre title cut, as George stretches out a soulful vocal with a gospel harmony by Debbie Lindsey.

Authenticity permeates the recording, especially on the humorous “Trouble”. The use of accordion blends seamlessly with the clever singing, creating an acoustic ballad that weaves a tale of hilarious misery (“footprints on the ceiling”) into a folk hymn.

Little Feat was a dynamic rock and roll band. Several bluesy opuses inhabit this album. Both “Tripe Face Boogie” and “Cold, Cold, Cold” are gutsy, raw, spontaneous jams that accentuate fresh and ingenious slide guitar, rollicking acoustic and electric piano harmonics, and an underrated rhythm section. There are several improvisational tempo changes and syncopated breaks that transcend archetypal rock interpretations of idiomatic blues. A foray into jazz highlights “Got No Shadow” (one of two Payne compositions), again capturing the mercurial explorations of the group.

The audiophile vinyl reproduction, engineered from the original master, captures the organic pedigree, with clarity and integrity. The intended roughness and gritty acoustics are refined from the original LP, with suppleness, giving the songs a stripped down nuanced immediacy. Little Feat never materialized as mammoth rock stars. However, Sailin’ Shoes captures these musical rebels at their peak.  If great music is not enough, the surrealistic high-heeled cake on a swing illustration by Neon Park will more than suffice.

TrackList:

Side 1: Easy To Slip; Cold, Cold, Cold; Trouble; Tripe Face Boogie; Willin’; Apolitical Blues
Side 2 Sailin’ Shoes; Teenage Nervous Breakdown; Got No Shadow; Cat Fever; Texas Rose Café

— Robbie Gerson

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