Little Feat bow out with a mixed bag and mixed emotions
As the last Little Feat album featuring original co-founder Lowell George, Down On The Farm would prove to be a difficult record to complete, namely due to two contributing factors: Lowell’s increasing dissatisfaction with the direction the group had been taking, as well as the singer/guitarist’s untimely death on 29th June 1979, before the album was finished.
In the preceding months, Lowell had been working intently on his first and what would turn out to be his only solo long player, the superb Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, soon followed by a promotional tour. This meant that George’s own contributions were more limited than they had been on the band’s previous efforts. Though despite this, George sang lead vocals on five of the LPs nine tracks, with the remaining vocal duties taken up by Paul Barrere, Bill Payne and Sam Clayton.
The majority of recordings took place at The Paramount Ranch in California with a mobile studio supplied by Wally Heider that was housed within a truck, followed by further overdubs at George’s house in Topanga Canyon. However when Bill Payne heard the tapes, he wasn’t happy with the overall sound, which he perceived to be “a mess”. It was then Bill approached Lowell stating that he wanted to co-produce the record, something which Lowell refused to go along with.
However by this point, George was far more interested in completing and promoting his solo album, leaving the rest of the group to put together the remaining pieces of what would be their seventh studio album, as Richie Hayward once explained: Down On The Farm wasn’t finished when he [George] died. We had to use some composite vocals out of some of Lowell’s stuff. He had sung everything; it was background vocals that hadn’t been done yet, and mixing. It was put to bed as respectfully as we could.”
Title track “Down On The Farm” contains all the hallmarks of the classic Little Feat funk-swamp-rock style the band were renowned for, while “Six Feet Of Snow” harkens back to the group’s earlier country-rock leanings. Sung by Lowell, Barrere’s “Perfect Imperfection” perhaps offers a clue as to what Little Feat may have sounded like if not for George’s death, with its smooth as silk production, gritty guitar, modern keyboards, and of course Lowell’s own irresistible vocals.
Some of the songs are reminiscent to the band’s Dixie Chicken period from several years earlier. “Kokomo,” written by George, and “Straight From The Heart,” bare more than a passing resemble to the West Coast funk of “Two Trains. Other highlights include the impressive pop-jazz of “Front Page News,” and the tender-hearted “Be One Now” (Lowell’s vocal performance is particularly memorable).
Final cut “Feel The Groove” is simply one of those recordings the listener knows would have benefited greatly had Lowell sung lead vocals instead of Sam Clayton, someone who is a fine singer in his own right, but without Lowell’s soulful touch, the song becomes merely yet another above average funk-pop tune.
Down On The Farm was arguably the band’s most unfocused release, which isn’t surprising, considering the friction between Payne and Lowell, not to mention George’s seeming indifference at the time. As Payne himself remembered: “For Me, Down On The Farm was the last straw. I hit the wall.”
Sadly, Little Feat would never get the chance to refocus their considerable talents and record a superior follow-up, or not with Lowell at least. After George’s passing, the group went on an extended hiatus that would last until 1988’s Let It Roll. However it is the original line-up that many fans hold closest to their hearts.
Down On The Farm may not be their best album, but it is an endearing one all the same. Perhaps one day we may be blessed with an extended edition, offering valuable insight into what was Lowell’s final work with the band he so much loved and treasured; the one and only Little Feat.