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Feats Don't Fail Me Now
Little Feat

Warner 2784
Released: August 1974
Chart Peak: #36
Weeks Charted: 16
Certified Gold: 4/17/86

Little Feat began as a writers' band, the writers being keyboardist Bill Payne and slide guitarist/singer Lowell George. By the group's second album, Sailin' Shoes, George's voice and guitar had progressed to the point where Little Feat was no longer just a writers' band: Material, performance and production were held in equipoise through that album and its successor, Dixie Chicken. On Feats Don't Fail Me Now that perfect tension has slackened. Now the band's strength has driven out the quirky but affecting vision that made Little Feat unique and worth cherishing. The outfit is a superb, well-oiled machine but with some of the impersonality which such a characterization implies.

Little Feat has had a terribly checkered history, with near breakups occurring not quite as frequently as damaging rumors said they were. George hopes he has finally achieved a measure of stability: He is not quite as dominant as he once was -- he has consciously down-played his own authority -- but this may not be the root of the problem. It is almost as if once he decided to cede responsibility to the others, he also decided to make his writing less reflective of his own slant than of the new, corporate Little Feat, a group that he no longer commands. Nearly the same can be surmised of Payne, whose earlier efforts were as original as George's.

Little Feat - Feats Don't Fail Me Now
Original album advertising art.
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The group's prismatic, L.A.-dominated view of culture first gave way to Dixie Chicken's earthier, less frenetic, but still witty approach. Feats, in a further reduction, tuns out out be almost pure funk, situated squarely below the Mason-Dixon line (the first three songs make reference to the State of Georgia). But the songs on Feats -- though within the group's chosen speciality -- do not evoke the frenzy of their counterparts on Dixie Chicken, like "Two Trains" and "Fat Man in the Bathtub." The syncopations of "Rock and Roll Doctor" are riveting but the tune's overall format is too choppy to be uplifting. Yet along with the title song, "Down The Road," and guitarist Paul Barrere's "Skin It Back," it qualifies as fine dance music. The latter two also boast some fabulous guitar interplay -- between the tricky and the breathtakingly simple. George's whining slide, which hasn't diminished a bit, is on a level with Ry Cooder's or Duane Allman's but is instantly distinguishable from either.

Little Feat's deviations here from their standard are "Spanish Moon" and "Wait Till the Shit Hits the Fan." "Spanish Moon" is a bayou trance, with growling voices, growling clavinet and spooky organ. But the horn arrangement is painfully hackneyed, and the entire number seems bogus. Perhaps Van Dyke Parks, who produced only this cut, should be blamed. The rhetorical melody and general negativism of "Wait Till the Shit Hits the Fan" recalls the Mothers of Invention, with whom George once played guitar. This churning approach, which appears to be about a groupie -- the "fan" of the title -- is disturbing as well as compelling. The LP ends with a remake of "Cold Cold Cold" and "Tripe Face Boogie" from Sailin' Shoes -- I suppose because someone assumed that the average consumer has never heard the originals. For one who has, it is a waste of space. Previously, Little Feat rerecorded "Willin'," the result being an immeasurable improvement. But the originals of these still stand.

Though happy for the band's new stability and promised prosperity, I think we have a right to expect Little Feat to be more than just the aristocrat of boogie bands.

- Ben Gerson, Rolling Stone, 10/24/74.

Bonus Reviews!

Little Feat is a rock band that doesn't take itself very seriously but plays as if it could. Imagine, if you can, a rock band of recent vintage (don't count the Who or the Airplane or others formed when real musicians were going into rock) that can handily play in something other than 4/4 time. Imagine also an outfit that would use a cover painting representing George Washington and Marilyn Monroe (I guess it's supposed to be her, although it looks more like Goldie Hawn) snuggled up together in a late-Forties Lincoln Continental on a mountain road on a dark and stormy night. The sassy outlook of Lowell George seems to be the main thing about Little Feat, and it sustains the album through its dull spots -- and there are some, as the thing never really cooks the way it promises to in the opener, "Rock and Roll Doctor," or the way it seems to assert it had at the end, where one meets up with the messy, disheveled fun of "Triple Face Boogie." But one probably can, as the man claims, boogie his sneakers away to it. The Feat are good lick-hitters but generally play it tight. The lyrics, what one can catch of them, are a gas; the main problem is that the tunes are thin. Rock is famous for that, of course, and this band compensates nicely by being dead-on with the rhythms.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 1/75.

Usual fine mix of rock, blues and country supported with superb vocalizing from this all too underrated group. Lowell George is easily one of the better rock guitarists on today's music scene, and his vocals combined with the singing and excellent keyboards of Bill Payne are one of the most winning combinations in contemporary music. The band is excellent, potentially commercial and it's a real mystery why they have not made it to a larger extent than they have. Band must rank near the top of any meaningful list of today's groups. Best cuts: "Rock And Roll Doctor," "Long Distance Love," "Front Page News," "Feats Don't Fail Me Now."

- Billboard, 1974.

So immersed are they in boogie tradition that they wrote a bunch of touring songs while breaking up. Good ones, of course, but I expect more of the thinking man's bar band than rock and roll doctors, American cities, and the lure of the road. Extra added distraction: a remake of "Tripe Face Boogie" designed for Sam Clayton's pulsating congas and Bill Payne's distended organ. B

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

With founder Lowell George's writing contributions giving way to the efforts of other band members, there is a noticeable decline in the quality of the material. But the group's strong chops and George's funky vocals still result in a superior effort, capped by the ten-minute closer, "Cold Cold Cold/Tripe Face Boogie" - Southern boogie gothic weirdness still simmering. The sound quality of the Warner Bros. CD is best described as good analog. B

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Whereas earlier albums were carried by Lowell George, this one finds the band as a whole at a writing and performing peak, with Bill Payne and Paul Berrere especially standing out on such songs as "Rock and Roll Doctor," "Oh Atlanta," and "Skin it Back." * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Feat frontman Lowell George was a genius of fusing country and rock as well as one of the all-time great slide guitar players, as he proved on this humorous and funky fun listen. Great for shakin' your groove thang ("my feet never fail me"), this music for a summer day is still immensely enjoyable, even if a handful feel 1978's live album Waiting for Columbus is even better. * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

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