The album title Join The Band derives from an entrance processional Little Feat sang a cappella when taking the stage during those high holy days with guitarist Lowell George. A rendition may be heard opening the band's famous live recording, Waiting For Columbus (Warner Bros, 1978). Lowell, of course, passed in 1979.
Thirty years later, the phrase is resurrected as the title of the present disc. Keyboard player Bill Payne opines that Join The Band is a summation of Little Feat's nearly 40-year career. The idea for the disc was hatched by singer/songwriter/mover and shaker Jimmy Buffett, who suggested that the band come to his 429 Studios and retool some of their book while adding new songs to it. He also suggested that Little Feat invite some friends to perform with them.
While so many popular music all-star affairs tend toward the bathetic, these pairings with Little Feat are downright inspiring. As LF has always been a band with a great penchant for the slide guitar, on which Paul Barrere is an acknowledged master, as good as Barrere is, the project spawned the inclusion of uber-slider Sonny Landreth. Landreth is to slide guitar what Michael Phelps is to competitive swimming.
Landreth joins vocalist/guitarist Dave Matthews and the band on "Fat Man in the Bathtub." This coupling results in a molten South African groove tempered with the quench of icy clean Louisiana slide guitar. Vocalist/guitarist Fred Tackett's inclusion helps transforms Lowell George's South California blues into a lightly tropical going on volcanic rocker driven by Matthew's exquisite vocals. It is a triumph in re-interpretation.
Also notable from the LF songbook is "Time Loves a Hero" with Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer steel pans. When Buffett and Bill Payne speak of ..."an uncle in Puerto Rico..." the song comes off with an Islands authenticity. Add to this the very near perfect engineering accentuating Tackett's pristinely rendered guitar (again). While vocalist Vince Gill is not exactly convincing on "Dixie Chicken," Landreth slashes and burns as only he can.
Several songs appear new to the LF book but have actually been part of their shows for several years. The Band's "The Weight" is interpreted here better than any other major band performing it (The Allman Brothers Band, The Black Crowes). Barrere's vinegar-dill voice is as perfect covering Band songs as Jimi Hendrix's guitar was covering Bob Dylan songs. Another cover is Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Here LF calls upon every influence they have ever had, funneling them into this most American of songs. Barrere and Shaun Murphy re-harmonize the chorus and deliver a candidate for the new national anthem.
Some songs here are just for fun. Foremost among these is Bob Seger's take on "Something in the Water," with some tasty guitar play by the dean of C&W guitar, Brad Paisley. "Champion of the World" hosts a light-hearted Jimmy Buffett romp with Paul Barrere, as does Barrere and Murphy's rendition of "See You Later Alligator." A serious and beautifully plaintive note is the duet between Bill Payne and Lowell George's daughter, Inara George, covering her father's "Trouble" from Sailing Shoes. Vocalist Emmylou Harris headlines on the new take of that title track.
Little Feat remains one of America's most durable 1960s-born bands. They are youthfully seasoned and still willing to take artistic chances. The inclusion of Vince Gill or Brooks & Dunn (who are superbly effective on "Willin'") could be argued by knuckleheads as LF selling out. It would be more apt to suggest that when one has friends like this, one should get them all together for a pow-wow and then let the results speak for themselves.
Fat Man in the Bathtub (Dave Matthews & Sonny Landreth); Something In The Water (Bob Seger & Brad Paisley); Dixie Chicken (Vince Gill & Sonny Landreth); See You Later Alligator; Champion Of The World (Jimmy Buffett); The Weight (Bela Fleck); Don't Ya Just Know It; Time Loves A Hero (Jimmy Buffett); Willin' (Brooks & Dunn); This Land Is Your Land (Mike Gordon); Oh Atlanta (Chris Robinson); Spanish Moon (Craig Fuller & Vince Gill); Trouble; Sailin' Shoes (Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush & Bela Fleck); I Will Play for Gumbo (Sam Bush).
Paul Barrere: vocals, guitars;
Sam Clayton: percussion, vocals;
Kenny Gradney: bass;
Richie Hayward: drums, backing vocals;
Shaun Murphy: vocals;
Bill Payne: keyboards, vocals;
Fred Tackett: guitars, mandolin, trumpet, backing vocals.
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