When a band soldiers on despite the loss of a defining member, there is unusually heck to pay. The band is forever fated to be compared by fans and critics to its previous incarnation and/or has to contend with the notion that the remaining members are only continuing in order to receive a paycheck. But that’s not the case for Little Feat, a band that just added a sixteenth album to its already-copious discography. Despite the demises of co-founders Lowell George (in 1979) and Richie Hayward (2010), not only did Little Feat carry on, undeterred — it flourished.
Rooster Rag finds the lads further refining their spicy sonic gumbo. It’s a tangy mix of earthy rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, blues, gospel, old-school Southern funk, and New Orleans rhythms, served up with snazzy sophistication and some hints of country twang (e.g., “Salome,” co-writ by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter). Fear not fans, that keening, razor-sharp guitar sound is still vivid (particularly on the volatile shuffle of “One Breath at a Time”), the organ remains thick and rich as the best barbecue sauce, and the vocals are still hearty, heartfelt, and delivered with a deceptively languid drawl. Unlike some roots-rock outfits, Little Feat doesn’t feel the need to be endlessly boisterous. Little Walter’s punchy “Mellow Down Easy” features an infectious mid-tempo groove that builds in tantalizingly slow increments, and the soloists ride it with command.
Above all, though, Little Feat isn’t coasting on past achievements. Rooster Rag can stand with the best efforts of “younger” roots-y combos Los Lobos, The Iguanas, and Bottle Rockets. That’s no small feat. (Rounder)