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Published: 2002/12/22
by Ray Hogan

Live at the Ram’s Head – Little Feat

Hot Tomato Records 0205

Fans of Little Feat essentially fall into two categories. There are those
who say it is sacrilege that the group got back together in 1988, nine years
after the death of wildman genius Lowell George, and continued under the
Little Feat handle. Hogwash, the opposition responds, the reunited band has
been around longer than the first and is playing better than ever.

The argument is beyond trying to mediate at this point and, as the latter
Feat has proven largely through inconsistency, both parties have validity.
Live at the Ram’s Head, an acoustic offering from six shows over
nights last summer, demonstrates strengths and weaknesses in equal fashion.
Let's start with the positives. The double disc set spans the band's career
from early staples like "Rocket in My Pocket" and "Willin'" to a couple of
tunes from 2000's Chinese Work Songs so there's no shortage of strong
material here. And to their credit, the New Orleans' ode "Calling the
Children Home" (from 1998's Under the Radar and some of the best
lyrics of
the past five years) is proof what the Feat are still capable of and fits
comfortably as such classics as"Easy to Slip >I Know You Rider" and "Oh

The group's fortas also been a unique mix of Southern rock,
deep funk and California zaniness. Keyboardist Billy Payne is an absolute
monster, masterful in styles ranging from barrelhouse blues to New Orleans
funk, he's never shy on ideas or energy. While the Phil and Feat (along with
Robben Ford) was pretty much the most maligned incarnation of Friends, Payne
remained a beacon but lacked a lead vocal presence. Guitarists Paul Barrere
and Fred Tackett (who even takes a noble trumpet solo in "On Your Way Down")
are also a great team and attune to the different approach that the acoustic
setting mandates.

Other members, including Payne occasionally, are not. The rhythm section
often drives to hard against the melodic guitars. Given that this is an
"unplugged" scenario, it's hard to figure out why the 21 cuts average in the
six to seven minute range. After touring with Lesh, both Barrere and Payne
acknowledged rediscovering the joys of stretching the music. Intimate
acoustic shows aren't the best venues to do so. Perhaps the biggest thing
the group has going against it is that it lacks a great lead vocalist.
Barrere and Shaun Murphy are both serviceable but fail to truly elicit the
emotions so much of the material begs for. Percussionist Sam Clayton's husky
boom (on "Spanish Moon," in particular) just sounds out of place.
Live at the Ram’s Head is indicative of the second half of the band's
career. The good and the average live in nearly equal measure allowing for
both golden moments and standard bar band fare.

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