CD Review of Join the Band by Little Feat
Recommended if you like
Jimmy Buffett, NRBQ, David Lindley
Label
429
Little Feat: Join the Band

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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T
hey rarely make for truly compelling listening, but it’s hard to begrudge a veteran band their right to release re-recordings of well-known hits, especially once it’s become clear that all parties involved reached their creative peaks long ago, and are too tired to do much climbing anymore. Little Feat, the off-kilter Southern blues band that Lowell George formed after leaving the Mothers of Invention in 1969, has been accused of trading on past glories for two decades now – ever since reforming without George, who died in 1979 – but they’ve recorded steadily, releasing new albums that range from the critically well-received (Let It Roll, Ain’t Had Enough Fun) to those best forgotten (Shake Me Up).

Like most acts of their generation, however, the Feat has been more of a touring phenomenon than anything else for a while now; though they’ve never suffered for want of a label – and were one of the first rock “heritage” artists to start self-releasing performances from the vaults – their newer stuff will always receive far less attention than the music they created during their first incarnation. Part of this is nothing more than nostalgia; the old Feat records, like the new ones, tended to be equal parts wheat and chaff. But in losing Lowell George, the band lost a truly singular musical and songwriting talent. The surviving members will never be involved in another “Willin’,” or “Dixie Chicken,” or “Cold Cold Cold” – just being there once is more than enough than any musician could reasonably hope for.

So it makes sense, from a business standpoint anyway, that the current version of Little Feat has decided to revisit its catalog with its latest studio effort, Join the Band – and invite an eye-catching list of guest stars along for the ride to boot. Of the album’s 14 tracks, only two – new covers of “This Land Is Your Land” and the Huey “Piano” Smith classic “Don’t You Just Know It” – don’t feature some sort of cameo. Everywhere else, listeners will hear appearances from artists such as Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris, Bob Seger, Vince Gill, and Jimmy Buffett, all of whom would seem natural fits for the Feat’s brand of jam-friendly, fun-loving rock & roll.

But even with the limited expectations that this sort of project inspires, Join the Band proves disappointing. The album kicks off with Matthews leading the band through “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” a slide-heavy corker that has long been a highlight of the Feat’s live performances, but this crew of road dogs fails to get the track out of neutral. It’s competently played and sung, but this “Fat Man” lacks fire – it’s polite to the point of inertia, which pretty much sums up Join the Band in a nutshell.

Some of the guests seem to be making an effort to get the group cooking – Bob Seger lends his reliable shout to “Something in the Water,” Sonny Landreth contributes some fine slide work to “Dixie Chicken,” and Chris Robinson injects some spice into “Oh Atlanta.” But all too often, as on the bland, pointless cover of “The Weight” featuring Bela Fleck, or the foul, Brooks and Dunn-fronted “Willin’,” Join the Band sounds like a group of old pros going through the motions, with no particular knowledge of, or affection for, the songs being played.

The album’s best track finds Lowell’s daughter Inara teaming up with Feat pianist Bill Payne for a lovely cover of the Feat classic “Trouble.” Problem is, Inara covered the same song 10 years ago – and did an even better job – on Rock and Roll Doctor, the Lowell George tribute album. Like most everything else here, it isn’t unpleasant, but in the end, it isn’t good for much besides reminding you of the older, better stuff that inspired it. It gets points for the sheer amount of talent involved, but even rabid completists would be better off skipping this set. You can pocket the $15 and spend it on an extra couple of beers the next time you catch the band on tour.

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