The Second Disc
Though the band formed in 1970 and found a home on Burbank’s famed Warner Bros. label with a debut album produced by L.A. stalwart Russ Titelman, Little Feat always stood apart from its California rock brethren. Still, the blues/rock/funk outfit attracted the attention of some important members of the Laurel Canyon crowd. “Willin’,” written by Feat’s de facto leader and chief songwriter Lowell George, found a home on Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel album. The song was reportedly despised by the notoriously anti-drug Frank Zappa, George’s former employer, for its celebration of “weed, whites and wine,” and it may actually have led to George’s departure from Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. But once Lowell George formed Little Feat with Richard Heyward, Bill Payne and Roy Estrada, he pursued a singular musical path incorporating strains of Southern rock, boogie-woogie, greasy funk, R&B, folk and even jazz. Lowell George died in June 1979, aged just 34, the victim of a heart attack likely related to drug abuse. He left behind a great legacy, however, and the Edsel label is celebrating that legacy with a 2-CD set collecting George’s final two albums with the band he founded.
Time Loves a Hero/Down on the Farm includes the 1977 and 1979 studio albums that marked the end of Little Feat until the band regrouped with some new personnel in 1988. Both were recorded by the lineup of George (who died before Down on the Farm could be completed), Hayward, Payne, percussionist Sam Clayton, guitarist Paul Barrere and bassist Kenny Gradney. (Clayton, Barrere and Gradney all joined the band as of its third LP, 1973’s Dixie Chicken.) Time Loves a Hero was produced by Ted Templeman, who had helmed the band’s second album. By the time he returned to the Feat fold, he was flush with the success of the Doobie Brothers, who made a guest appearance on the album. Though Templeman’s undeniably slick sound is present, and Nick DeCaro contributes subtle string arrangements, the album is filled with diverse sounds typical of Feat.
Paul Barrere stepped up to the plate as the primary songwriter, with George on the sidelines. The guitars-meets-brass of “Hi Roller” contrasts with the fusion jazz-influenced jam session that is “Day at the Dog Races,” while “Old Folks Boogie” (co-written by Paul and Gabriel Barrere) is straightforward R&B/funk. “Missin’ You” is a tender acoustic country ballad. The Doobies, with Michael McDonald a prominent voice, show up on Bill Payne and Fran Tate’s “Red Streamliner,” and threaten to steal the song. Lowell George’s only solo composition on the album is “Rocket in My Pocket,” not a rockabilly song as the title might suggest but rather another return to funky Feat form.
The Payne/Barrere/Gradney title song could have been written about George from today’s vantage point: “Well, they say time loves a hero/But only time will tell/If he’s real, he’s a legend from heaven/If he ain’t, he was sent here from hell.” Indeed, George raised a lot of hell but delivered music straight from heaven.
Hit the jump to head Down on the Farm, plus full track listings and pre-order link!
Down on the Farm was Little Feat’s final studio album for nine years, a posthumous collection featuring Lowell George’s final work with the band. He is more prominent than on Time Loves a Hero, with writing credits on five of the songs. He’s also present on his signature slide guitar. Some lite-disco overtones appear on the album, but the musicianship is expectedly strong throughout. The loose “Six Feet of Snow,” co-written by George, is a highlight, as is “Perfect Imperfection,” a decidedly modern R&B ballad co-written with Tom Snow (“Let’s Hear It For The Boy,” “He’s So Shy,” “You Should Hear How She Talks About You”). Though the fusion flourishes of the last album are less pronounced here, there’s still a nod at jazz/rock with the Steely Dan-esque “Front Page News.” “Wake Up Dreaming” is similarly glossy but an appealing pop number, and “Straight from the Heart” is the kind of slick FM soft-rock its title might indicate. The slyly suggestive “Kokomo” is far removed from the Beach Boys song: “You can Kokomo in a china cup/Kind of love I need come from deep inside/Feel so good, oh so right/Oh so good and tight/Kokomo with me tonight!”
Edsel’s Time Loves a Hero/Down on the Farm is available now. Its booklet contains not only full lyrics, but detailed notes from Alan Robinson and artwork from both original LPs. Phil Kinrade at Alchemy has mastered both albums.
On their last legs
By 1975, Little Feat had recorded five incomparable albums on the trot, including the undisputed classic Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. Soon, however, cracks began to appear due to a battle of wills between founding members Bill Payne and Lowell George. Strung out on drugs, the latter’s contribution to Time Love A Hero was minimal. George had never been the band’s only writer but it now fell to Payne and guitarist Paul Barrere to write the lion’s share. Only “Hi Roller”, booted by Tower Of Power horn section, “Old Folks Boogie” and the gently rolling title track measure up to past glories. Lowell George had been more preoccupied with completing his debut solo album, Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, before suffering a fatal heart attack on June 29, 1979 during the accompanying tour with a new band. Little Feat’s future had been uncertain before George’s death but their troublesome final sessions were dutifully pieced together as Down On The Farm. This time, George had a hand in writing five numbers and sang on six, and despite the circumstances, the heartbreaking “Be One Now” and playful “Six Feet of Snow” stand out on what is a surprisingly poised album.