Little Feat retrospective: it's all that you dream

September 19, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Back in 1981, just before the Police released the album "Ghost in the Machine," drummer Stewart Copeland paid tribute to Little Feat, stating that it was a great band that made some wonderfully sophisticated recordings.

"They'd probably have been a lot bigger if they'd been a little more photogenic," he added.

But Little Feat wasn't a pop band in the mass-appeal sense of the term, and the fact that they enjoyed any commercial success was a tribute to the adventurousness of rock fans in the '70s.

In fact, it would be safe to say that most of the music on the four-CD set "Hotcakes and Outtakes: 30 Years of Little Feat" (Warner Archive/Rhino 79912, arriving in stores today) will be unfamiliar to anyone who isn't already a Feat fan.

Formed by former Mothers of Invention Lowell George and Roy Estrada in 1969, the group married the rootsy exuberance of country and blues to the instrumental rambunctiousness of jazz and funk.

Although the songwriting (mostly by George) was witty and tuneful, the band's comfortable groove and loose-limbed arrangements were idiosyncratic enough to avoid easy categorization, and that made it hard for the band to garner much radio play.

A live album, 1978's "Waiting for Columbus," managed to break the million-seller mark, but otherwise the band enjoyed only moderate success before George left for a solo career in 1979, effectively breaking up the band. He died of a heart attack in Washington that same year.

Had George come along a couple decades later, the Little Feat story might have been completely different. Heard with modern ears, such vintage gems as "Sailin' Shoes," "Dixie Chicken" or "Fat Man in the Bathtub" almost make it seem as if Little Feat anticipated both the jam band and the Americana movements. Indeed, were this a new band, there's a good chance Little Feat would be a phenomenon on the order of Phish.

Of course, the irony in that is that Little Feat is still around, having regrouped with mostly original members at various points in the '80s and '90s.

Unfortunately, as the later tracks on "Hotcakes" make plain, the Feat had long since lost their kick.

As for the "Outtakes" portion of the program, the set's final disc offers enough interesting new stuff to make older fans forgive having to duplicate tracks they already own. Particularly fascinating is "Lightning Rod Man," a 1966 recording showing unexpected similarities between George and underground legend Captain Beefheart.

Little Feat

"Hotcakes & Outtakes: 30 Years of Little Feat"(Warner Archive/Rhino 79912)

Sun score: ***

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