I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #39:
The death of a musical artist, whether of the emerging or the resurgent kind, seems especially unfortunate if you’ve seen him or her in person not too long before the demise. Because I had seen, as a kid back in 1966, a lively and spirited Bobby Fuller (“I Fought The Law,” "Let Her Dance") in an in-store appearance a few weeks before he was mysteriously found dead in a parked car in Hollywood, I personally found the controversial "suicide" theory implausible. And in seeing Roy Orbison in concert at the Arizona State Fair in 1988, a few months before he died of a heart attack, I shared a virtually communal experience with an audience of well-wishers happy to see a deserving pioneer in a triumphant comeback not only with the Traveling Wilburys but also with new solo album, Mystery Girl.
Lowell George, founding member and leading light of Little Feat, also succumbed to a fatal heart attack, in 1979, just as he was embarking on a promising solo career. While I didn’t see any of his early solo performances, I did catch one of the last Little Feat concerts — in their original incarnation — the year before at Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theater, just a two-block walk from where I lived at the time. It was a potent mix of the jazz-fusion direction of latter-day Little Feat and earlier George-led Dixie Chicken-style Feat – the eclectic retention of funk, R&B, country, blues, and pop that marked and was upheld in George’s first and only solo LP.
Indeed, Thanks I’ll Eat It Here sustains the lingering and bittersweet memories of that last show with an alternately celebratory and melancholic collection of songs that spotlights the soulful and silky fluidity of George’s vocals. That smooth sublimity is at a zenith in a cover of Allen Toussaint’s “What Do You Want The Girl To Do” and Ann Peebles’ “Can’t Stand The Rain.” A little more spunk and fun is found in Rickie Lee Jones’ “Easy Money,” while the off-kilter novelty of Jimmy Webb’s “Himmler’s Ring” adds a little vaudevillian spice to the variety.
But George shows he's more than a fine interpreter of some choice material. In addition to a punchy reprise of “Two Trains” from Dixie Chicken, George had a hand in writing or co-writing some other highlights, including the horn-backed, funky-but-chic “Honest Man,” and the quirky south-of-the-border tale “Cheek To Cheek.” The stand-out track, however, is the affecting “20 Million Things,” which wistfully reminds us of the distracting and transitory nature of life:
- If it's fix a fence, fender dents
I've got lots of experience
Rent gets spent
And all the letters never written don't get sent
It comes from confusion, all things I left undone
It comes from moment to moment, day to day
Time seems to slip away…
In effect — moment to moment, track to track — Thanks I’ll Eat It Here helps recapture a little of the time that slipped too easily away with Lowell George's death, though it must leave behind "all things [he] left undone."