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Little Feat: High Wire Act - Live in St. Louis 2003 (2CD/Blu-ray)


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Little Feat
High Wire Act -Live in St. Louis 2003
Mercury Studios

Little Feat's current personnel lineup has stabilized dramatically in recent years, so it's somewhat of a disappointment High Wire Act: Live in St. Louis 2003 does not depict those positive changes. Nevertheless, the 2CD/Blu-ray package does present an accurate portrait of the beloved band in its valiant (and largely successful) attempts to honor the legacy of the group in the wake of Lowell George's death almost a quarter century prior.

A career-spanning set at The Pageant in St. Louis, MO., High Wire Act is the group's first live performance to be captured in high definition. This package represents a digital upgrade for the concert film, available on Blu- ray for the very first time and it's also the debut of the audio bundled with the video; fittingly, the sterling clarity and depth of the recordings match that of the arrangements and the musicianship at its peaks.

Shaun Murphy assumes the unenviable role as main lead vocalist for this Little Feat ensemble, a position the one- time partner of Meatloaf would hold for fifteen years. But she acquits herself equally stylishly on a range of material dating back to the era dominated by the deceased co-founder—"Feats Don't Fail Me Now" represents the apotheosis of intensity in a string of such numbers on CD two—as well as tunes such as the fitting opener, "Time Loves A Hero," from the later stages of the group's initial tenure.

Apart from her somewhat overwrought delivery on "Cadillac Hotel," the distaff successor to Pure Prairie League's Craig Fuller as a member of the group is equally courageous and skillful enough to take the spotlight on her original "I'd Be Lyin,'" But the woman's also sufficiently humble and professional to assist with harmonies on cuts such as "Day Or Night" that hearken to the dulcet tones of Feats' female singers of the past.

Based on the New Orleans-flavored intro to "Cajun Girl" alone, it might go without saying Little Feat and this recording benefit tremendously from the indomitable drumming of the late Richie Hayward. But it's more apropos to note how he provides the foundation upon which bassist Kenny Gradney and percussionist Sam Clayton build during "Old Folks Boogie" and "Oh Atlanta."

The collective rhythm they generate, in fact, is so strong it permeates the guitar work of Fred Tackett and the late Paul Barrere, even when they solo during a number such as "Fat Man in the Bathtub." And of course, keyboardist Bill Payne's playing thrives on its linkage to the intrinsic beat of a song like "Skin It Back" as well as his interaction with his bandmates.'

Trumpet played by multi-instrumentalist Tackett on "Dixie Chicken" rightfully hearkens to the Feats' past collaborations with the Tower of Power and Midnight Ramble horn sections with the band. Still, the changes in tone and texture don't wholly camouflage the tendency of this ensemble, as on "Tripe Face Boogie," to simply play faster (and faster) in lieu of more intricate improvisational interplay.

Having survived the ravages of time including the passing of three linchpin members of its lineup over the years, Little Feat's is a seemingly indestructible bond, to which High Wire Act is reaffirmation, albeit one of two decades hindsight. The video documentary on Blu-ray, Close Up In St. Louis, adds to that perspective, but it hardly speaks volumes so profoundly as the pinnacles of the music contained within Live In St. Louis 2003.

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