Join The Band

Little Feat

Thirty years after their critically acclaimed live album Waiting For Columbus, Little Feat have unveiled a new studio recording. But Join The Band does more than cull its title from the opening cut of the 1978 release; it reintroduces classic Feat songs recorded with an impressive list of guest performers.

While rock historians are aware of their status as one of the most important bands of the 1970s, Little Feat enjoyed little major commercial success, especially after the untimely death of their founder and primary songwriter Lowell George in 1979. After nearly a decade of performing individually and with different bands, the remaining members re-formed in 1988. Guitarist Paul Barrere, keyboardist Billy Payne, bassist Kenny Gradney, drummer Richie Hayward and percussionist Sam Clayton were joined by new guitarist and trumpet player Fred Tackett, and this core has been together ever since. Both Barrere and Payne have written and sung lead on several Feat songs, but there was still the considerable void where George’s distinctive voice had been. That spot was filled by Craig Fuller (Pure Prairie League) from 1988 to 1993, followed by female vocalist Shaun Murphy, who’s remained with the group since then.

Join The Band is the brainchild of Payne and Jimmy Buffett, who lent his talent and record label, as well as his Shrimpboat Sound Studios in Key West, Florida, to the project. Buffett sings on the remake of “Time Loves A Hero” and members of his Coral Reefer Band (Mike Utley, Robert Greenidge, Ralph MacDonald and Jim Mayer) all perform on this and other cuts.The album starts with a delightfully different take on George’s “Fat Man In The Bathtub” featuring Dave Matthews on vocals and mouth percussion. The liner notes reveal that he recorded 18 different tracks to achieve the lush sound. Slide guitarist Sonny Landreth shreds it up here as well as on the new version of “Dixie Chicken” with Vince Gill on the vocals. Gill also joins his former Pure Prairie League bandmate Fuller on “Spanish Moon.”

The country-influenced “Willin’” is sung by the current stars of that genre Brooks & Dunn. When Payne heard that The Black Crowes had been performing “Willin’” as an encore, he invited their singer Chris Robinson to join him on a rocking rendition of “Oh Atlanta.” Emmylou Harris sings on “Sailin’ Shoes,” a version that transitions to double time with the help of electric bluegrass legends Sam Bush and Bela Fleck. Inara George, Lowell’s daughter, sings a haunting “Trouble” accompanied by Payne on the piano. This song, written by her father, was often sung to Inara when she was a child.

Other tracks on the album are a musical travelogue of America — from Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” (with Mike Gordon of Phish on bass) to the New Orleans sound of Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s “Don’t Ya Just Know It” and the Buffett-penned “I Will Play For Gumbo.” The Band’s southern-tinged anthem “The Weight” gets an extra boost from Fleck. There’s also a foot-stomping version of “See You Later Alligator” and the ballad “Champion of the World” with Buffett. Join The Band is co-produced by Payne and Mac McAnally, a recent inductee into the Country Music Songwriters Hall of Fame, who also plays guitar and sings background on several of the tracks.

While the Dave Matthews track should garner Little Feat some well deserved and overdue attention on some of the alternative radio stations, it will be interesting to see if country stations pick up “Willin’.” Or maybe the rock stations will play “Something In the Water” with Bob Seger belting out the vocals, Brad Paisley on guitar and Bush on the fiddle. Of course, there is also the distinct possibility that the diversity of Join The Band, combined with the music industry’s need to pigeonhole artists, will keep these great musicians out of the limelight once again. But don’t let that keep you from joining the band.

~ Paul J. Turgeon

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