Lowell George is well-known as the leader of Little Feat, an electric, commercially under-recognized Los Angeles rock band that has always enjoyed a devoted following here. In addition, he is an accomplished slide guitarist and record producer who has just released his first solo effort, "Thanks I'll Eat It Here" (Warner Brothers BSK 3194).
George's work as a songwriter is singular, distinguished by quirky rhythms and sly wordplay; it is both imaginative and professional - in the best sense of the word: well-structured and economical. His compositions bind a number of disparate elements: sinuous lyrics culled from mundane experience and complex, blues-tinged rock. As an example of his peculiar, desolate vision, take the cover painting of Little Feat's "Last Record Album" (their fifth), in which an antlered jackrabbit poses amid cactus and brush in a dusty canyon that leads to a giant, whipped-cream-topped gelatin salad labeled "Hollywood." George's songs posses neither the magnetic incisiveness nor the cinematic sheen of those of fellow Los Angeles artists Jackson Browne and the Eagles, respectively, but he compensates with tensile writing and sheer musical vitality.
On "Thanks I'll Eat It Here," however, George has chosen not to show-case himself as a composer or player; only four of the nine selections are written or coauthored by him. The liner notes list many Los Angeles session stalwarts, including Little Feat members Bill Payne and Richie Hayward, drummers Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon, pianist David Paich and guitarist Fred Tackett.
The only disappointment about this album is that it doesn't rock very hard. Early Little Feat's sharp back-beat is missing: none of the tracks has the energetic grittiness of, say, "Tripe-Face Boogie" (from "Sailin' Shoes"). The direction Lowell George has fixed upon here is indicated by his cover of Allen Toussaint's "What Do You Want the Girl To Do": smooth, soaring arrangements, gliding horn sections and massed background vocals. "Honest Man" and newcomer Richie Lee Jones' "Easy Money" slink and prowl with the only flashy guitar work on own "Two Trains" offers a more familiar brand of thumping funk.
Lowell George's singing on all the cuts is sensitive and skillful, especially in the gentle introduction to "Can't Stand The Rain," as he hovers before the plunge into swirling verbal paradoxes. The most poignant (and best) track, though, is his "20 Million Things," an acoustic bit of quiet depressison. "All the letters never written/that don't get sent/it comes from confusion," he laments against a ringing, crystal-clear balance of guitar and piano. "Find A River" continues the mood a little more dejectedly, but lacks the former song's simple understatement.
Two one-shot whimsicalities have been included: "Cheek to Cheek," a mariachi melodrama not unlike Jackson Browne's "Linda Paloma" (it used the same Mexican musicians), although George aims toward wry deprecation rather than dead seriousness. The other is "Himmler's Ring," a delightful, big-band style excursion featuring a crooning Lowell George.
George served as producer, and his work is superb, marked by clarity and sureness; be never allows technical converns to overshadow the music's spirit. He has achieved a full, resilient sound largely without the cloying use of a string section, yet he doesn't forget to establish a concrete rhythmic base. His sophisticated restraint is worth mentioning, since it's all too common an occurrence these days to find the life snuffed out of artists' efforts by overzealous production.
There is no compelling justification for this album, but one doesn't seem necessary. George has assembled a dextrous group of musicians and excellent variety of songs for an intelligent studio outing. Die-hard Little Feat fans may prefer a bit more vigor from this drowsy "rock 'n' roll doctors," but "Thanks I'll Eat It Here" is relaxed solo project that places few demands upon the audience. This is what "easy listening" should be all about.