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CD Review: Donald Fagen – Morph The Cat

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For the many Steely Dan fans out there, you would know without question who Donald Fagen is. As the co-writer and co-founder of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band, Donald is very musically talented. Morph The Cat is just his third solo album, following his successful Nightfly (1982) and Kamakiriad (1993) albums. Joining him on this album are guitarists Hugh McCracken, Wayne Krantz and Jon Herington, drummer Keith Carlock, bassist Freddy Washington, pianist Ted Baker, and saxophonist Walt Weiskopf.

Combining funk, jazz and soul, Morph The Cat is a wake-up call for the disillusioned. Underneath the smooth melodies and soulful lyrics are apocalyptic versions of love, death and homeland security. “There’s nothing sexier than the Apocalypse,” Fagen says. In “Mary Shut The Garden Door,” Fagen explores the immediate effects of an alien invasion, which he compares to a Republican National Convention: “I woke up / and sensed the new condition / They won / storms raged, things changed / Forever.” But his outlook isn’t that bad for the world; in the title track ‘Morph The Cat,” a cat named Morph flies over Manhattan to make everyone “warm and cozy.”

Fagen performs a conversation song between him and the ghost of Ray Charles in “What I Do.” Ray was such a huge influence on him, Fagen thought the song would be a fitting tribute as Ray addressing a younger version of himself: “Don, don’t despair just take some time / You find your bad self, you’re gonna do just fine.” He also explores relationships in “The Great Pagoda of Funn” (Fagen spelled it with two n’s to give it a “Gilbert & Sullivan feel to it”) — between a man and his lover — and in “Security Joan” — between a female airport screener and her screenee.

In “Funn,” he explains that there is nothing safer than the house they share and their lives in it is separate from anything outside: “Whatever trouble waits outside these doors / We’re safe inside this house of light / We make up our own storyline.” In “Joan,” he humorously suggests that both of their wands were meant to sweep each other: “And when I felt the wand sweep over me / You know I never felt so clean.”

With melodies so headache relieving, it’s surprising to hear such dark imagery as in encounters with death in “Brite Nitegown” and isolation in a big town in “The Night Belongs To Mona.” Harsher melodies would have drowned out the somber lyrics, but with mixed jazz harmonies the lyrics simmer underneath the surface until Fagen’s message about one’s mortality is suddenly realized. “We’ve always copped to getting older and not tried to preserve any false rock & roll youth,” Fagen says.

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