DOWN ON THE FARM -- Little Feat (Warner Bros. HS 3345).
"The pure products of America go crazy," wrote William Carlos Williams n 1923, and Little Feat, the Los Angeles band with the diverse rhythms and the offbeat lyrical sensibility, is as purely American as they come. But Little Feat never went crazy. It started out that way.
That craziness found a stubbornly affectionate following in the Washington area, as local fans took the band into their hearts with the kind of warmth that's usually reserved for the Redskins.
Te band responded with frequent appearances at such rock showcases as the Warner Theater, the Capital Centre and Lisner Auditorium, where a good portion of the "Waiting for Columbus" live album was recorded.
More somberly, it was at the Twin Bridges Marriott that Lowell George, whose small shoe size gave the band its name, died June 29 after a performance at the Warner Theater, leaving the band with no choice but to finish recording what they called, in a moment of black humor, "The Real Last Record Album."
"Down on the Farm," the eighth and last Little Feat album, stand as a requiem for George, and for the kind of music the group made together for almost ten years. As keyboardist Bill Payne told Rolling Stone, "Whatever doors were open to any more Little Feat albums are now closed. Little Feat just does not exist without Lowell."
There's little doubt that George was the heart and funnybone of the band. He was responsible for such standards as the oftcovered "Willin'," the wry "Apolitical Blues," "Sailin' Shoes," "Fat Man in the Bathtub," "Spanish Moon" and "Rocket in My Pocket." Even on the songs he didn't write, his versatile slide guitar and saucy, playful delivery are the highlights.
For short periods the band could get along without George -- in fact, some of the best writing belongs to other members. Payne had a hand in writing the rollicking "Tripe Face Boogie," the classic chorus rocker "Oh Atlanta," and the jazz-tinged "Red Streamliner." Guitarist Paul Barrere contributed such favorites as "All That You Dream," "Romance Dance" and the deliciously cruel "Old Folks Boogie."
Even with all that talent, the band was cursed with unmarketability. Their albums sold respectably to poorly ("Time Loves a Hero" was the best-received ), and, with the exception of Washington, the group often played second fiddle in empty halls.
This strange lack of commercial appeal is perhaps the fundamental conundrum of this otherwise indigenously American band.
It's a shame that, for the life they led, Little Feat must go out with a relative whimper, instead of a bang.
Sad to say, but "Down on the Farm" is just not up to snuff, even for a band to whom lapses in inspiration were commonplace.
When the album shines, as it does infrequently, it is often because of George's contributions. He wrote or co-wrote five of the LP's nine songs in the three months before his death.
"Six Feet of Snow," written with Keith Godchaux (formerly of the Grateful Dead), has a slick, syncopated country flavor, spurred on by some clever phrasing and slide guitar parts that are vintage George. "Kokomo" shows George at his lewd, tongue-in-cheek finest, in pursuit of the mythical jailbait, "Miss Demeanor." There is a drunken, good-natured salaciousness to the slide guitar that evokes the barroom bonhomie of "Dixie Chicken" and "Rocket in My Pocket."
Guitarist Paul Barrere turns in a fine performance, as well, with the title track and the bluesy "Perfect Imperfection."
"Down on the Farm" opens with an imaginary conversation between an agitated Lowell George and a persistent bullfrog, then segues into a slide-pointed funk, highlighted with bright piano work and assorted animal noises.
Amid all the squawking, George asks the apocryphal Linda Lou about her working conditions: i hear you're working in a saloon i hear ya work from midnight 'til noon i might be from the woods but them hours don't sound so good what do you do in this here barroom?
Side two is the real disappointment. The slick L.A. studio sound takes on a brighter, late-Doobie Brothers character.
The arch and arrogant quality of the early Little Feat lyrics is buried in the mellow tendencies of late "70s over-production.
The sound takes up where the jazzy "Time Loves a Hero" left off, but the lyrics are so irretrievably pedestrian that the clipped Steely Dan-like phrasing is lost in the muddle.
"Straight From the Heart" and "Front-Page News" have some soothing chord progressions and classic Little Feat syncopated bass lines, as well as some adventurous synthesizer interludes, but the plodding lyrics and seemingly interminable fadeouts are hardly worth going into further. l
Perhaps it's for the best that the band doesn't try to go on without George, because there's an engagingly off-color quality to his writing that, in effect, made the band what it was. As a final tribute to George, "Down on the Farm" barely makes the grade. Any further attempt to reproduce the classic sound of "Sailin' Shoes" would probably result in little more than embarrassment.