Haute cuisine with a New Orleans flavor
1973 was the best year in the career of Little Feat and its leader, Lowell George. On January 25 their third album, Dixie Chicken, appeared, which is the great masterpiece of the band’s career and on which bassist Kenny Gradney, guitarist Paul Barrere and percussionist Sam Clayton participated. This new lineup gave George's music a much funkier aroma as can be heard on an album that brings the band closer to New Orleans funk, without losing their own flavor.
But that year George and the band also collaborated on notable records such as John Cale's Paris 1919, Robert Palmer's Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley, Harry Nilsson's Son of Schmilsson and Bonnie Raitt's Takin' My Time, which gives an idea of the true potential of a band that did not sell many records but was the favorite of many of their fellow musicians, including Raitt herself, who declared them her favorite band, or a certain Jimmy Page who in 1975 told Cameron Crowe: "At the Plaza . .. the attorney general, who is staying upstairs from us, complained that I played Little Feat records too loud last night.... As far as bands go, Little Feat is my favorite American band."
And the fact is that this band exuded pure musical quality, with very careful arrangements and George in a compositional state of grace, contributing four of the best songs of his career: Dixie Chicken itself, Two Trains, Roll Em Easy and Fat Man In The Bathtub. The title track opens the album like a good Cajun and funk stew, with all the flavor of New Orleans. Bill Payne's piano and Bonnie Bramlett's voice, on backing vocals, help to give this stew all its flavor, along with George's wonderful slide, with open A tuning, playing with a Stratocaster to which he added a Telecaster pickup and a lot of compression.
Two Trains is pure New Orleans funk, with a smoky keyboard reminiscent of Dr. John and a vibe not too far removed from that of his beloved Meters (with whom George would also collaborate that year on Palmer's Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley). In Roll Em Easy they lower the revolutions so that George can shine, once again, on the slide, in one of his most delicate and beautiful songs.
It is a spectacular start to the album, but there are many other marvels, such as the version of another icon of New Orleans music - Allen Toussaint - on On Your Way Down. On the other hand, Walking All Night, composed and sung by Barrere and Payne, has a touch of the Stones' cockiness and self-confidence. However the best song of the second half is another George original, the wonderful Fat Man in the Bathtub, with Cuban percussion, a changing rhythm, and a lot of humor in the lyrics.
Dixie Chicken is, in short, an album that oozes musicality on all four sides. It is understandable that other bands and artists were attracted to this careful and sensual sound, a homemade broth in which many musical ingredients fit. The album was produced with ‘all American roots’, and played with enormous virtuosity, but without arrogance. This is something very difficult to achieve but nonetheless Lowell George's band perfected it throughout their career; although this is their best example.