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Down Upon the Suwannee River by Little Feat

Little Feat follows up their acoustic live album An Acoustic Evening with Little Feat Live At Rams Head with an electric live recording, Down Upon the Suwannee River. Since leaving the major label domain, the band has pretty well been able to as they pleased with very good results as evidenced by their previous releases on their label, Hot tomato Records. The new live recording was captured on 36 tracks out in the woods of Suwannee Florida before an appreciative crowd.

Post-Lowell George live Little Feat has been characterized by wall-of-sound mixing that takes advantage of the sheer power as a live band Little Feat is able to express. This power is evident on Live From Neon Park, but was not in as full of bloom as outtakes found on Ripe Tomatos, Volume 1 and Raw Tomatos, Volume 1. I readily site "Rock & Roll Doctor" from on Raw Tomatos, Volume 1. Plodding and powerful, the song builds momentum through the introduction to become a relentless juggernaut that even in the absence of the song’s composer is still permeated with George’s genius and sense of humor while maintaining a tornadic velocity.

Suwannee demonstrates a further evolution of the band characterized, in addition to the wall-of-sound, in the band’s willingness to stretch out the songs, both new and tried and true. Few songs are less that 5 minutes and the performance never degenerates into 1970s or current jam band excesses. Like Mozart, Little Feat does not waste a note. The set is composed of a heavy dose of Lowell George-era war-horses and a light dose of fine pot-George selections. The disc begins with The Last Record Album’s "All That You Dream." Barrere provides a stimulating extended introduction and Bill Payne adds a liberal smattering of his fine keyboard prowess. Barrere and Murphy capably sing the song in the absence of the sure George tenor. This is followed up with Little Feat’s standard paring of "Spanish Moon" and "Skin it Back," with Sam Clayton exercising vocal duties on the former, and Barrere the latter.

The remainder of Disc 1 is made up of five post-George songs bisected by a perfectly bluesy "Sailin’ Shoes," replete with Fred Tackett’s trademark mandolin. "Big Bang Theory" and "Let It Roll" have become regular concert rave-ups showing off how comfortable Shaun Murphy has become as part of the band. Murphy and Barrere are almost conversational in their intimacy, Barrere’s slide guitar punctuating every exchange. "Bed of Roses," "Cajun Girl," and "Rag Mama Rag" are specialty items, demonstrating the depth and breadth of the band’s horizon. As Little Feat begins of cover more non-Feat material, the band’s choice of material is always a curious proposition. The Band’s "Rag Mama Rag" is a perfect fit, as is Dylan’s "It Takes a Lot to Laugh."

That is Disc 1.

If there was any question of Little Feat having jam band credentials, that is put to rest in the 28-plus minutes of the band’s tour de force, "Dixie Chicken." Actually, make that the trifecta of "Lafayette Railroad," "Dixie Chicken," and "Tripe Face Boogie," which altogether clocks in at 37 minutes. The introduction to Dixie Chicken’s "Lafayette Railroad" is unrecognizable and sounds like a late Miles Davis musing with Fred Tackett supplying the muted trumpet. Bill Payne cagily quotes The Last Record Album’s "Day or Night" before sliding into the familiar strains of "Railroad." Seamlessly, "Railroad" gives way to an incendiary "Dixie Chicken" complete with a Kenny Gradney bass solo and a Bill Payne performance of the aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Very nice touch. This is the first performance of this piece that I have heard that ranks with the superb rendering on Waiting for Columbus.

"Tripe Face Boogie" rocks hard before closing out the Little Feat trifecta. The band then plays the most pleasant surprise of the recording, Bob Dylan’s "It Takes a Lot to Laugh." The song is presented as a Muddy Waters vamp with Shaun Murphy singing with dense and sincere conviction. Ms. Murphy sounds like a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. She has just earned her Ph.D. in the blues. Paul Barrere fully establishes himself as a premiere slide guitarist (but we all already knew that). On this song, Little Feat approaches The Allman Brother’s Band for a molten Götterdammerüng. "Oh Atlanta" may have its finest performance on record in this version, as does "Willin’" on which Fred Tackett plays some tasty Spanish mandolin on "Willin’" supplemented by Barrere’s vocals and exceptional slide work and Ms. Murphy’s sensitive background vocals. The disc concludes with an incandescent "Fat Man in the Bathtub."

Down Upon the Suwannee River is a performance of one of America’s finest band’s book with fabulous results. Little Feat has truly never sounded better.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Little Feat
  • CD Title: Down Upon the Suwannee River
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Hot Tomato
  • Tracks: Disc 1: Introduction; All That You Dream; Spanish Moon; Skin It Back; Big Bang Theory; Bed Of Roses; Cajun Girl; Sailin’ Shoes; Rag Mama Rag; Let It Roll. Disc 2: Lafayette Railroad; Dixie Chicken; Tripe Face Boogie; It Takes A Lot To Laugh; Oh Atlanta; Willin’; Fat Man In The Bathtub.
  • Musicians: Paul Barrere—Guitars, Vocals; Fred Tackett—Guitars, Trumpet, Mandolin, Vocals; Shaun Murphy—Percussion, Vocals; Sam Clayton—Percussion, Vocals; Bill Payne—Keyboards, Vocals, Kenny Gradney—Bass, Vocals; Richie Hayward—Drums, Vocals.
  • Rating: Five Stars
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