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New York Rock & Soul Review

Steely Dan and Friends

Well here's another instalment of the struggles of an Australian to listen to the New York Rock and Soul Review. Good news. (For me at least.) I've heard it!

I sent the e mail containing the details from the digest to a friend who shares my mild fanaticism with the world's most obtuse duo. Also Australian. Are we the only ones? He was on the phone to the record store about another matter and casually mentioned it in passing.

Bob, the record store guy said: "Yeah I think we've got that somewhere." You know the way Bob talks. Nothing ruffles Bob.

"Whaaaaaaat!" my friend yelled, almost squeezing himself down the phone wires. " Don't move!. I'm coming right over.

The phone hadn't hit the desk before he was out of there and in the grey metal Mazda 323 with the peeling interior and the cranked up sound system, leaving behind a class of bewildered art students.

That evening he rang me. It was one of those: "Are you sitting down?" type conversations.

The next day he dropped in the CD to me and we shared half a bottle of red and listened together to the first few tracks. He'd had time to listen all the way through, once only, the night before. Now he was lending me the CD. Mighty friend. Legend of generosity.

I have a strange CD player. It's a portable and doesn't record well. That's not strictly true. It records OK, it just doesn't erase. So unless I use brand new tapes every time, I get multi tracking. I think the worst example was a Box Tops best of over a Levon Helm All Stars, both at equal volume.

I had some fresh 60 minute tapes so I could get most of it. That weekend we met up again and I returned the CD. I had a tape with the Boz Scaggs song going over the end of side one and the start of side two and some missing from the end, but I had most of it. I didn't have time to take down the details of the tracks, but I've got the CD on order so it'll come eventually.

The first thing about the CD I have to say is: I want MORE! I want to know everything they did. It's so tantalising. Why is it so short? Surely they could have squeezed a few more tracks on. I'm not sure of the lasting value of the Madison theme and reprise -- it's harmless fun and a good warm up but as they say: "You had to be there." I would have preferred a few more tracks. What was the whole set list I wonder? Any more Steely Dan tunes? They are the ones, of course, that we all came to hear.

So this is a review of an incomplete tape of the CD, without the benefit of liner notes which I made every effort to commit to memory.

Great to hear Donald tinkling the ivories on that bracket-break stuff. But aren't you glad that the boys chose a career in pop/rock song writing instead of jazz. It's just too damn easy listening.

Great to hear Donald's voice introducing Phoebe Snow and Mike McDonald in Knock on Wood. Never been a big fan of this song. It sorta clunks along. David Bowie did a pretty fierce version live that I no longer have but of which I still have fond memories. But it's a good time number that loosens the larynx -- and Phoebe is sounding great.

Since her first album, the self titled one with Poetry Man on it, I've been intoxicated with Phoebe Snow. I have pretty much all her records. And her voice is getting stronger, by the sound of it.

What a bunch of friends to get together with to play some of your favourite numbers. You have to just shake your head in wonder. They all seem the positively "nicer" types in show business/ rock and roll -- that is, non-bastards -- but still, to me they are stellar. You don't have to be a bastard to be great. It's just a delight to hear the casual way they just have fun on this stuff.

The live Greenflower Street I like even more than the studio version on Nightfly -- one of its better songs. As someone earlier wrote in a review -- it's absurdly perfect. Everything is restrained and mysteriously charged at the same time.

Phoebe Snow then does one of her standards, Shakey Ground. I foolishly had thought this was one of her songs -- she makes it her own. But she doesn't hit her straps until the vocally wrenching At Last - a very fine rendition. Better than that -- it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck the first time. That NEVER happens on recorded material. It's something to do with the live feel. But it did happen. And still I get a tingle.

When Mike McDonald started charting with the Doobies I thought they had gone MOR -- now I just respect the great song writing -- he deserved the success that the vehicle of that band gave him and his long standing friendship with Donald and Walter has to give us some idea that he's not just a latter day Bing style crooner.

Choosing Lonely Teardrops is one tough assignment! That's one of Jackie Wilson's signature songs -- only he had that Caruso like tortured vocal virtuosity to carry it off. Mike does it justice but it's those Fagen arranged horns that really make it work. And the girl chorus to round it out. Choice cuts.

Boz Scaggs. Voice of pure gold. Who can begrudge him Silk Degrees when you have My Time, or the hilarious and soul searching Moments, and the classic eponymous album and the other one with Mussel Shoals -- Boz Scaggs and band. Loan Me a Dime -- with Duane Allmann. Sublime.

And can this guy sing. His voice is like a compressed foghorn. It's just a treat to hear someone who has actually got it. He's delivered his own material and has made some lasting statements and had his share of success but the over riding fact is -- what a voice.

Charles Brown delivers an astonishingly mature blues number for a 12 year old -- I feel like an intruder on an in joke listening to this. I love it but I don't relate to it. "Baby I give you all my money." Just how much money does a 12 yr old have?

The sheer bliss of sliding into Chain Lightning is like shiatsu for the ears. Doesn't quite capture the magic of the version on the record but it has plenty of other weird stuff going for it that elevates it to one of the best cuts on this record. The solos are twistedly brilliant. The horn arrangements are like the sound of someone thinking -- which I suppose is exactly what they are.

Unlike a previous writer who thought that the human trumpet was a stupid party trick -- for me it was just the condiment needed to kick this into a hallucinatory space.

The guitar playing post Dias, Baxter, and more than occasionally Randall, has never reached, for me, those heights of the early records. Larry Carlton often rose above himself and Drew Zing is competent in being the young Larry Carlton but Denny, Skunk and Elliott had something which none of the later players could every reach. It must have been the times. A certain way of paying your dues that make it unnecessary to play those unnecessary but often spectacular notes.

Are the Rascals the Rascals without Felix? What's the story? Felix seems to have been in bad odour in recent times with copyright struggles over the Rascals material or am I just being too sensitive? Eddie Brigati was the heart throb and the vocal genius but wasn't Felix the driving musical force?

Nevertheless a great version of Groovin the signature Rascals song, and the pivotal song for them. Eddie apparently wrote the words to Felix's music and Felix's mood and Felix's blissful relationship at the time. Groovin has a double meaning that must have slipped past the censors.

One of the highlight tracks and a real surprise is the wonderful version of Minute by Minute. It has the BEST horns and guitar licks on this record. The band is really cooking. The playing is hot and clenched and abandoned and tight. One of my favourites. Key change, and then more great playing. Whose idea was that? Whoever -- it was a good one. It really leaves you with a good feeling and it's highly appropriate the way that it segues into the Rascals hit. The song is crap, but the mood is great. Love the sound of Phoebe's voice cutting though the mix.

Then the rapture which has pretty much peaked, has to go into another dimension, because we've got those tell tale piano chords and then the immortal bass lines of Walter Becker in the straight ahead blues Pretzel Logic -- the highlight of the record. This is where Donald delves into the personal. This is where the music starts going sideways into strange emotion. The part where Mike McDonald sings the bridge is over-rated because of Donald Fagen's own amusing recollection. It doesn't sound so wonderful here, but it fits with the whole song, and it reeks of memories.

And that's where the tape cut out. out. out.

Strangely truncated experience.

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