Warner Bros. 2686
Released: February 1973
Like their much more famous cousins, the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison, Little Feat are eclectic in a vertical rather than a horizontal way. They are past the point of wanting to make stylistic distinctions in their music. And if they had come along two or three years earlier, when radio programmers and record buyers alike were still willing to take chances, I'm sure they would have gotten plenty of recognition by now.
Little Feat don't do things like other bands. While other slide players, for example, tend to slide up the guitar neck, Lowell George, Little Feat's guitarist (among other things) has developed a distinctive style out of sliding down. The group's music has always been pervaded by that throaty, plaintive, downshifting squeal. George also avoids the obvious, and in the process comes up with titles like "Kiss It Off," "Dixie Chicken" and "Fat Man in the Bathtub" that one doesn't expect to see on any album this side of Captain Beefheart's. He makes these seemingly dadaistic elements work for him in much the same way Van Morrison uses the guttural vocal sound -- to scrape the preconceptions and the standard expectations from the listener's mind, to force him to take the song on its own terms.
I keep wanting to compare the group to the Stones, because the music of each is so thoroughly black and white at the same time, and because you have to become aware of and accept the peculiar universe of each group before you can settle down and enjoy what's going on. There's even a rumor, possibly dreamed up by some lonely Little Feat fanatic, that as soon as Mick Jagger got to Los Angeles last year to put together Exile on Main Street, he requested a set of Little Feat LPs for which he expressed a particular fondness. There are, in fact, several tracks on Exile, such as "Shine A Light," "Loving Cup," "Let It Loose," and "Soul Survivor," that have that dense, careening, nearly out-of-control feeling that distinguishes much of Little Feat's music.
On Dixie Chicken, the group seems to have returned the favor, using a number of elements also found on the last Stones LP. They've thickened their sound further, for example, with a female chorus fronted by Bonnie Bramlett, and it works as well as the voices on Exile did. Both groups understand that in order for a device like this to add to rather than detract from their basic music, they have to involve the singers in the sense of the music (Bonnie in particular is great) and assimilate them into the overall sound. This Little Feat do dramatically on the album's first two tracks, "Dixie Chicken" (in which the boys and girls join forces on the chorus -- "If you'll be my dixie chicken, I'll be your Tennessee lamb/And we can walk together down in dixieland") and "Two Trains" (on which Bonnie is absolutely inspired). There are plenty of other apt touches, like the carioca-brass sound -- probably made by Bill Payne's organ -- that adds the indefinable something to the "Oh, Juanita" chorus of "Fat Man in the Bathtub," or the nautical-sounding synthesizer in "Kiss It Off" that evokes a mood very close to that of Morrison's "Almost Independence Day" (the advantage to this song being the fact that it makes its point in three minutes rather than 11), or the sparing slide work and background singing behind George's lone vocal and acoustic guitar on "Roll Um Easy" (which fits right between "Torn and Frayed" and "Black Angel"). The only songs George didn't write are Allen Toussaint's easy tempoed "On Your Way Down," Payne's and new member Paul Barrere's "Walkin' All Night," the album's purest rock & roll song, and Fred Tackett's "Fool Yourself," which the group gives a rolling Byrds-like treatment.
- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 4/12/73.
Some of the personnel from Little Feat once belonged to Zappa's Mothers, and a Zappa album title aptly describes Little Feat -- just another band from L.A. Really, it is getting tiresome listening to competent bands who get to make albums because they're killing them in the Southern California canyons. I would imagine that albums of this type have an initial pressing of five thousand copies and one after that -- enough to feed the canyon people and massage some egos.
Little Feat is a derivative blues band (now that's something new!) that mostly plays its own lackluster material when it would be better off playing reliable material by reliable songwriters. The only good song on this album -- and it is, I must say, a whopping good song -- is Little Feat's version of "On Your Way Down," written by that remarkable man from New Orleans, Allen Toussaint. It is a fine contemporary story blues and features some shivering good organ played in a Booker T. Jones style. It may not be worth buying the whole album for, but because of it I'm not giving my review copy away.
- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 9/73.
One of the finest LP's of the young year, moving from hard rock to ballads and featuring top-notch vocals and instruments on all of the cuts. This band manages to sound just right no matter what the material. Best cuts: "Roll 'Um Easy," "Kiss It Off" and "Juliette." The group is also blessed with a songwriter of major talent in Lowell George, and his ability to produce material suitable for both AM and FM audiences should provide a boost.
- Billboard, 1973.
A reconfigured group adds greater depth to the percussion, along with a rhythm guitarist who frees Lowell George to slide his way to heaven, and the songs -- especially the title track, "Two Trains," and "Fat Man in the Bathtub" -- are among George's best. * * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Dixie Chicken is a superb introduction to Little Feat's smart, high-spirited rock stew, boasting delicious melodies and hip-shaking grooves. An instant party. * * * *
- Simon Glickman, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
It's been said before but is very true: Little Feat is the most underrated band of the 70's just like Moby Grape in the 60's
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