Walter Becker

Circus Money

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Walter Becker's second solo album, Circus Money, arrives 14 years after his first, 1994's 11 Tracks of Whack -- which just happens to be the span of time separating 11 Tracks and Steely Dan's Gaucho, the last album Becker cut before going solo. Apart from producing credits, he was quiet during that first 14 years but during the second Steely Dan became a going concern again, as Becker's reunion with Donald Fagen -- first broached when the former produced the latter's 1993 record, Kamakiriad, a favor Fagen returned for 11 Tracks -- turned into something permanent, a base that they could pivot from and release solo projects. Circus Money is about as solo as it gets for Becker, as it represents the first time he's recorded an album without the collaboration of Fagen, choosing to work with producer/writer Larry Klein instead. Not that you could tell any of this from the sound of the album, as this shares the same impeccable production and soft jazz grooves that have been the duo's stock in trade since Gaucho. Sonically speaking, this is a close blood relative to Everything Must Go, just as Fagen's 2006 solo album Morph the Cat was, but Circus Money is thematically the opposite of Morph, as it's not a concept album and it's ever so slightly less reliant on jazzy, keyboard-driven rhythms, feeling more like the work of a small-scale combo -- a combo that happens to have a penchant for really relaxed reggae rhythms, a new development that is the only new wrinkle in Becker's sound and one that fits in easily with the mellow, immaculately soulful grooves. At its heart, Circus Money is a groove album -- a pristine, precise groove album to be sure, but this is an album where feel is paramount, so much so that it takes a few listens to dig into the sardonic dirty jokes, satire, and vignettes that Becker serves up in each of the 12 songs. Again, this is nothing new but that doesn't mean it's unwelcome, as Becker continues to live up to his high self-imposed standards with this very fine album. Plus, hearing him here on his own, completely separate from his running partner, makes it easier to appreciate that dry wit and sly guitar, two things that have always been his calling card but resonate strongly when heard outside of Steely Dan.

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