By Doug ColletteJuly 25, 2012
With the tragic passing of founding member Richie Hayward, Little Feat suffered what is undeniably the band's greatest loss since the untimely death of its mastermind Lowell George. But the venerable group has enlisted some redoubtable reinforcements for its 16th studio album Rooster Rag
New drummer Gabe Ford (sideman to Jorma Kaukonen and Ruthie Foster, nephew of guitarist Robben) acquits himself stylishly throughout Rooster Rag, never more so than on the tightly-wound patterns he concocts with bassist Kenny Gradney Jr. and percussionist Sam Clayton during “The Blues Keep Coming.” And the new enlistee's peripatetic approach on "Salome" contrasts effectively with the slow swooping slide guitar from Paul Barrere.
It's rare for any band to have lyrics as erudite as their own instrumentals, but that's exactly what Robert Hunter, long-time wordsmith for the Grateful Dead, supplies on companion pieces "Rag Top Down" and the title song; on the latter, dobro twirls around Larry Campbell's violin in acoustic sounds not altogether new in the Little Feat canon, but certainly not often prominent in their discography.
The band is in full flight on "Candyman "Blues," the opening cut displaying as much of the crackling energy of the horn-laden Fred Tackett original "One Breath at a Time." With Willie Dixon's "Mellow Down Easy"—which in its high-stepping elemental beat is anything but (see another of Tackett’s tunes, “Tattooed Girl” instead)--this Mississippi John Hurt number bookends the other ten other cuts on an album of expansive production.
Yet Feats' familiarity with its blues roots supplies a stable point of departure in an otherwise ambitious, not to mention courageous, diversity. Guitarist Tackett, who's been on board since the group’s reformation in 1988, chips in with four distinctive originals here, and one, "Church Falling Down," is built on the deep NOLA-derived rhythm at the foundation of the original six-man Little Feat.
On Rooster Rag
, Little Feat sound more like themselves, and naturally so, than they have in years. Hopefully this album lays a foundation for similarly courageous projects from this resourceful band.