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Little Feat, ‘Sam’s Place’: Album Review

todayMay 13, 2024 52

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Little Feat, like any other good gumbo, is a rich, dark stew of influences. They’ll stir in folk, rock, blues, country, gospel and a bit of funk. The secret spice in this strange concoction was originally the late Lowell George, a man of both prodigious talents and appetites. He oversaw their transformation from an off-kilter post-Frank Zappa hybrid group into a rollicking, rootsy delight before he was felled by a massive heart attack on June 29, 1979, at just 34 years old. Little Feat had already begun drifting away from him, turning a little more jazzy, but promptly broke up anyway.Next came an unlikely late-’80s reunion that brought keyboardist Bill Payne, drummer Richie Hayward, guitarist Paul Barrere, percussionist Sam Clayton and bassist Kenny Gradney back together from the classic-era lineup – and then brought Little Feat back to sounds of its rootsier heyday. Little Feat had hinted that both things were entirely possible with 1974’s more collaborative Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, even if Lowell’s wild and wooly musical excursions were sometimes sorely missed.Little Feat would become more song-oriented as they trained a sharper spotlight on the underlying musical elements that always made this band so intriguing. Tending to their roots with far more care than seemed possible with Little Feat’s rangy late frontman, the group eventually found themselves recording their first all-blues, Clayton-sung LP. For some, the genre turn on Sam’s Place may have seemed as unlikely as Clayton moving from behind the congas. After all, Little Feat had always been one thing – and that was never any one thing. Yet Clayton’s infectious passion for the music is clear, and there’s always been a bright blues thread winding through the group’s career.READ MORE: How Little Feat Saved Their Career With ‘Dixie Chicken’A Howlin’ Wolf cover was included on Little Feat’s 1971 self-titled debut. They worked with Bonnie Raitt on a string of albums beginning with 1973’s Dixie Chicken. Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” made an appearance on a 1996 live album. Louisiana bluesman Sonny Landreth was among the guests on 2008’s Join the Band. Rooster Rag, released in 2012 as Little Feat’s most recent studio album, opened with the lip-smackingly ribald “Candyman Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt. Expanding on those scattered thoughts, Sam’s Place unfolds with rowdy joy, rough style and no small amount of grit.They kick things off with an original co-written by Clayton, “Milkman,” then include a few delightful deep dives from sessions at Sam Phillips’ second Memphis studio. Guitarist Scott Sharrard, who’s replaced the late Barrere, suggested “Why People Like That” from the deeply underrated Bobby Charles. Clayton dug out “Don’t Go No Further,” giving this Willie Dixon deep cut a gravel-gargling recharge. But Sam’s Place is really about exploring a foundational element of their musical past in miniature. So, Little Feat covers Howlin’ Wolf again. Raitt sits in again. “Can’t Be Satisfied” returns, too. Their easy camaraderie is such that even a concluding live version of the usually tired Chess warhorse “Got My Mojo Working” becomes a rollicking good time. The result is an inviting opportunity to more deeply explore one of the small, good things that always girded Little Feat. They’re very much at home in Sam’s Place.Top 100 Live AlbumsThese are more than just concert souvenirs or stage documents from that awesome show you saw last summer.Gallery Credit: UCR Staff

Written by: Badlands Classic Rock

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