Stellar collection of swamp blues and funk by the one and only ’70s sextet
Feats Don’t Fail Me Now was the fourth, and some say, the best album of Little Feat’s career. Although trying to pick the band’s finest LP would be akin to picking one’s favourite finger. Each Little Feat record from the Lowell George period could be deemed just as important as the one which preceded it or followed afterwards. 1973’s Dixie Chicken may be their most critically celebrated and best remembered (it was the band’s highest charting effort), although no self-respecting fan could do without owning at least the group’s first six studio albums, along with the superb double live LP Waiting For Columbus.
Whether Feats Don’t Fail Me Now is their finest effort or not, now more than forty years after the fact, is irrelevant. What it is however, is a damn fine collection of intelligent tunes, crafted to perfection by Paul Barrére (guitar), Sam Clayton (percussion), Kenny Gradney (bass), Richie Hayward (drums), Bill Payne (keyboards), and of course Lowell George himself on guitar and vocals. Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt also lend a hand on backing vocals, along with Tower Of Power providing horns.
From the sultry, humorous opener of “Rock And Roll Doctor,” to the intricately sprawling “Medley: Cold Cold Cold/Tripe Face Boogie,” which brings the LP to a satisfying finish, practically everything on here is first rate.
The country-funk of “Oh Atlanta” rolls along just nicely, thanks to some stellar slide guitar reminiscent of Mick Taylor on “Silver Train,” while the funky “Skin It Back” is in a class all by itself. Somehow Little Feat managed to tap into the American music well far deeper than many of their contemporaries. The rhythm section stays on the offbeat throughout the bluesy slide-fest of “Down The Road” (not to be confused with the Stephen Stills song of the same name), before Lowell lends his smooth as silk vocals to “Spanish Moon,” the one song which, despite its sheer excellence, inexplicably failed to register on the public radar.
The title track is about as much fun as one can have without frolicking through the hay with the local farmer’s daughter, before the band unleash their considerable jazz-rock-fusion skills via the “The Fan,” where each member crams as much as they can within the space of four minutes. Complex off-beats: tick. Tricky slide guitar: tick. Keyboard solo: tick. Basically this track has it all when it comes to both arrangement and musical dexterity.
What Little Feat proved was that critical acclaim doesn’t necessarily translate into successful sales figures. And if they were frustrated then, imagine how they’d be feeling now, today, when sophisticated music is about as underground as it gets, usurped by the likes of Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and Ed Sheeran.
To say that Feats Don’t Fail Me Now is one of those albums which has improved with age would be an insult to anyone who bought it back in the day. As always the illustration art by Neon Park is delightfully absurd, depicting Marilyn Monroe and George Washington. Priceless, as is the music itself.