Monday, July 7, 2008

Steely Dan Review

Steely Dan – Katy Lied

Released 1975

ABC Records / MCA Records

By Schwinkle

By 1975, Steely Dan had nearly transformed itself into the jazz / funk / rock fusion group that everyone thinks of today. After 1974’s release of Pretzel Logic, dominant band members Walter Becker and Donald Fagan decided to jettison the other members and touring in favour of working exclusively in the studio with highly polished session musicians. By the time the first track “Black Friday” opens the album, it is clear that something fundamental has changed. A total crossover between jazz, rock, and funk sounds, “Black Friday” scorches from the speakers in a relentless groove.

The second track is a laid-back jazzy number called “Bad Sneakers”. Listening to this track, it is almost possible to visualize a lazy summer afternoon in New York City in the mid-1970’s (even if you’ve never been to NY) – or a lazy summer afternoon in 1990 in Regina when I first discovered this amazing tune as the closing track on the compilation album A Decade of Steely Dan. Michael McDonald’s backing vocals are all over this track as well as the following one “Rose Darling”.

The Dan’s penchant for throwing in a blues-infused track is represented well with the blues-funk fusion of “Daddy Don’t Live in New York City”. A cynical song about dysfunctional relationships and drug and alcohol abuse, the Dan take depressing lyrics and strut with them through all 3:16 of the track. The drug theme plays itself out through “Doctor Wu”, a surprisingly catchy smooth jazz-influenced tune that is apparently about a physician that helped the band with addictions during that period of their career.

“Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” opens up what would have been side two of the original vinyl. If you didn’t know that you were listening to Steely Dan, you might actually mistake this tune for something by Jimmy Buffet. Marimbas and a Caribbean groove permeate this track. A return to form is served up on “Your Gold Teeth II” – a piano-driven, jazz-saturated track that features some incredible drumming and percussion from session ace Jeff Porcaro.

The rest of the album is rounded out with the bluesy “Chain Lightening”, the Michael McDonald infused “Any World (That I’m Welcome To)”, and the album closer “Throw Back the Little Ones”.

The fact that Becker and Fagan had moved on to attempt studio perfection with session musicians is readily evident upon first listen to this extraordinary album. Past Dan efforts pale in comparison – the musicianship is incredible and the songs are almost all of high calibre. It is hard to believe that Becker and Fagan would not listen to this album for years after its release due to their contention that there were sound imperfections in the master tapes due to a faulty dbx noise reduction system that was used during the recording sessions. Such imperfections are just not audible to the untrained ear on this masterpiece of an album.

No comments: