In 2011 Edsel of the UK acquired some of the 'WEA Catalogue' and began releasing value-for-money 1CD and 2CD album sets from that vast repertoire. So far I've reviewed Hall & Oates, Greenslade and 4 of their Doobie Brothers releases – and they’ve been great on all fronts. This 2CD Little Feat set is part of that reissue campaign…
UK-released 26 March 2012 (12 April in the USA) – Edsel EDSD 2113 breaks down as follows:
Disc 1 (35:29 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Time Loves A Hero" released May 1977 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 3015 and in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56349
Disc 2 (37:32 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Down On The Farm" released November 1979 in the USA on Warner Brothers HS 3345 and in the UK on Warner Brothers K 56667
The 20-page booklet is substantial – it features the front and rear artwork for each album, the lyrics, reproductions of the original LP labels, colour photos of the band and a new essay by ALAN ROBINSON. The mastering was done by PHIL KINRADE at Alchemy Studios in London (it doesn’t say it’s been remastered) – and the sound on both discs is excellent – punchy, clear and to my ears improved on what went before. Also – they’re pitched at less than mid-price – so this release offers a lot of music for very little lay out.
Fans will instantly recognize that these are the last two Little Feat studio albums featuring founder member LOWELL GEORGE. "Time Loves A Hero" was released amidst major band acrimony about direction and suffers the most from lack of decent songs and George's wit and voice. Completed after Lowell's untimely death in June 1979 aged only 34 - "Down At The Farm" came out in late 1979 and is a surprisingly good set – especially re-listening to it in retrospect.
"Time Loves A Hero" features only two George songs – the fabulous funk of "Rocket In My Pocket" and a co-write with Paul Barrere on "Keepin' Up With The Joneses". The other seven are a very mixed bag. Although derided at the time as a step too far – the fusion-rock instrumental "Day At The Dog Races" comes across like mid-Seventies Weather Report meets Todd Rundgren's Utopia – but I’ve always liked it. And it's a blast to finally hear it receive some muscle on the audio front. The backing vocals of Patrick Simmons and Michael McDonald from The Doobie Brothers lift "Red Streamliner" considerably and former Steely Dan guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (and fellow Doobie) contributes subtle Dobro playing to the largely-acoustic album finisher "Missin' You" – a very pretty Paul Barrere song.
"Down On The Farm" again features cover artwork by painter Neon Park and this time has five of the nine tracks with contributions from Lowell – "Six Feet Of Snow", "Kokomo", "Be One Now", "Straight From The Heart" and "Front Page News". The album features guest guitarists Robben Ford and Fred Tackett (Tackett would later join Little Feat) as well as Bonnie Raitt on backing vocals. Highlights for me include the witty "Shut Up!" frog beginning of the excellent return to form song "Down On The Farm" – the band suddenly sounding like the glory of old. "Six Feet Of Snow" isn't great but "Perfect Imperfection" is a lovely slow melody written by Paul Barrere with Tom Snow. It has a great guitar solo – and overall sounds like smooth-as-silk Boz Scaggs. "Kokomo" is a Lowell George winner with that sly guitar/keyboard funk and those lady-of-the-night "...Miss Demeanor..." lyrics. Their follows probably the album's highlight – the forlorn swing of "Be One Now" – a really lovely melody about friendship (lyrics above). "Straight From The Heart" is good too with great clarity in the mastering - while I so dig "Front Page News" which sounds like a Steely Dan "Aja" outtake (not a bad thing in any man's language). "Wake Up Dreaming" rocks it up a beat - while "Feel The Groove" is like a different band on a funky/disco tip. It's nice in places - but it's possibly not the best way to end that phase of the band's illustrious history…
To sum up – this is a five-star reissue of two-to-four star material. For me "Time Loves A Hero" is a bit of a dog frankly – but very much in this release's favour is "Down On The Farm". I was shocked at how good it stands up - a full 30+ years after the event – especially given the difficult circumstances in which it was made.
Well laid out, great sound, cheap price. Recommended.
PS: let's hope that their earlier classic LPs finally get a Western World remaster by Edsel after decades in the wilderness. Now that really would be something worth getting into a sweaty lather about…