Little Feat

Rooster Rag

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For the better part of two decades, Little Feat have been a touring band that occasionally records, surviving the rough and tumble of the road and of life itself. Founding member Richie Hayward passed in 2010, by which time Gabe Ford had taken over his drumming duties, and 2012's Rooster Rag marks the first time Ford has anchored a Feat studio recording, but it's also the group's first collection of new material in almost a decade. The last was the 2003 Kickin' It at the Barn -- Join the Band, a star-studded stroll through their back pages, appeared in 2008 -- and Rooster Rag feels a bit more focused than that ambling affair, lacking some of the casual virtuosity of Kickin' but gaining the presence of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, who co-wrote three tunes with Bill Payne here. Hunter's presence elevates "Rooster Rag," "Salome," "Rag Top Down," and "Way Down Under," giving the album an anchor of songs that feel fleshed out, not just amiable jams with words laid on top. To these songs, the strongest Feat have cut in many years, add a pair of strong blues covers (Mississippi John Hurt's "Candy Man Blues" taken as a shuffle," a cleanly funky version of Willie Dixon's "Mellow Down Easy"); a good, almost gritty rocker from Paul Barrére and Stephen Bruton in "Just a Fever"; and a pair of plain songs from Fred Tackett ("Tattooed Girl," "Church Falling Down") that he redeems with a pair of low-key charmers ("One Breath at a Time," "Jamaica Will Break Your Heart"). There's just enough mess to keep this aligned with Feat's ramshackle latter-day charms, but Rooster Rag doesn't stray too far from the path; it stays right on track, is relatively lean, and amply illustrates all of Little Feat's enduring charms.

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