When listening to an album, sometimes sensations hit you as each song plays. Scents like freshly cut lawns and barbecues; sounds like waves hitting the beach, kids laughing while playing in the surf, and the sizzle of food cooking on the grill; sights like bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies; and tastes like a cool beer or lemonade overwhelm the senses. Summer demands music such as this, and Little Feat's latest album, Rooster Rag, serves this purpose perfectly. Travel to New Orleans and the deep South without leaving your house, or slap this CD on the stereo during your next outdoor party—quite simply, it's the perfect soundtrack.
On their 16th album, Little Feat hasn't lost a step as they explore American music's roots, combining blues, Cajun flavors, and classic rock to create good-time tracks. “Candy Man Blues,” Little Feat's cover of the Mississippi John Hurt tune, steams forward with scratchy guitar and deep bass blues. The title track emphasizes the band's country roots, reminiscent of the Grateful Dead; in fact, the lyrics were co-written by Grateful Dead's lyricist Robert Hunter. Those who prefer slow-grinding blues will love “Church Falling Down,” written by member Fred Tackett. The track demonstrates Little Feat's versatility and ability to convincingly interpret various musical genres, even a hint of gospel.
Other standouts include “Salome,” which features some incredible guitar solos and pounding, Fats Domino-like piano. Here Little Feat perfectly illustrate how musicians who have played together for numerous years can play in perfect harmony and synchronization, almost anticipating each other's next moves. The same applies to “One Breath at a Time,” where crunching electric guitars lay down the song's rhythm as much as the percussion. Singers Tackett, Sam Clayton, and Paul Barrere trade lines like pros, sounding as if they thoroughly enjoy performing together. “Just A Fever” is a fun jam that allows the band to just show off how hard they can rock, and is the perfect accompaniment for a cookout on the deck.
Other than “Rooster Rag” and “Candy Man Blues,” the best candidate for a single remains “Rag Top Down,” which features some interesting chord changes reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's bluesier period. Sure, the lyrics do not address any incredibly complicated topic, but a driving song works perfectly for summer trips. Blast this track and revel in Little Feat's laid-back, good-time vibes. The second-best single candidate, “Jamaica Will Break Your Heart,” injects some soul into the proceedings with horns, gospel piano, and Barrerre's rhythmic vocals. His precision is impressive on tongue-tripping lines such as “What was now is now the past/ Who was first is now outcast.”
“Way Down Under” does not address Australia, but cloaks some strange images in a sunny, uptempo beat: “Go ahead and take a whirl but/ Don't step outside the magic circle/ 'Less you can find your own way back,” they croon. Rooster Rag concludes appropriately with “Mellow Down Easy,” a Willie Dixon cover that brings the listener right back to the good-time party vibes of the beginning of the album. Fabulous Thunderbirds member Kim Wilson contributes searing harmonica to the track, which also benefits from Clayton's growling lead vocal.
Four words adorn Rooster Rag's cover: “No Excuses, No Regrets.” Indeed, Little Feat's confident set demonstrates that this uniquely American band holds few regrets about their obvious goal: to keep the blues and general Americana roots alive. Rooster Rag portrays a band still in their prime, and it provides the perfect soundtrack for a particularly hot summer. Don't miss one of the best—and most enjoyable—albums of 2012.