In the years before they formed Steely Dan and released the band's debut album Can't Buy a Thrill in 1972, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen made numerous demonstration recordings of their songs under the auspices of their manager, Kenny Vance of Jay & the Americans. Vance began leasing these recordings for commercial release in 1983 with the album Becker & Fagen: The Early Years, and since then they have been repackaged over and over in various combinations, appearing on such albums as Berry Town, Sun Mountain, Old Regime, and Stone Piano. Twenty-eight different songs (plus an alternate version of the song "Sun Mountain") have turned up on one album or another, and The Roaring of the Lamb presents half of them. Steely Dan fans who have never heard any of these tracks may be pleasantly surprised. None of Becker and Fagen's vaunted studio perfectionism is present on these primitive and usually spare tracks, but the work comes only a short time before the polished Steely Dan commercial recordings, and it is identifiably by the same performers. In fact, "Barrytown" later turned up on the third Steely Dan album, Pretzel Logic. "Android Warehouse," meanwhile, is basically a demo of "The Caves of Altamira" from the fifth Steely Dan album, The Royal Scam. Most of the tracks feature only Fagen on lead vocals and piano, and Becker on bass and harmony vocals, though some are more developed arrangements presumably including Demian (featuring guitarist Denny Dias, later of Steely Dan, drummer John Discepolo, and singer Keith Thomas), the band with whom they were playing at the time. As long as buyers aren't expecting the usual Steely Dan sonics, they may enjoy a glimpse into the band's beginnings.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann