The lyrics for “Home At Last” are inspired by an episode from Homer’s Odyssey where Ulysses attempts to sail home safely after waging battle, but that’s really just a metaphor for Becker and Fagen’s pining away for their native New York environs from across the country in Southern California. Here again we’re seeing perhaps Fagen’s old English Lit degree bearing more fruit.
Coming after “Peg” and a couple of songs before “Josie” on side 2 of the ol’ Aja vinyl, it can be easy to overlook “Home,” but this ranks as one of Steely Dan’s best ballads and best blues. Or at least, blues in the Steely Dan sense of blues, which by this time had become so finely woven into their intricate fabric of melody and harmony, it’s often easy to forget that it’s a blues song. The Ellingtonian horns add a sophisticated air that smooths over Larry Carlton’s Chicago-tough rhythm guitar, and the whole song is a signature moment for Bernard Purdie’s “Purdie Shuffle” that reliably installs a strong undercurrent of funk on even this melancholy tune.
This is also the first appearance of Fagen’s trademark blues-y synth solo (more prominent on “Hey Nineteen”) which is countered by Becker’s thoughtful guitar solo. Come to think of it, that also marks this the first time that both of the Steely Dan linchpins are the soloists on their own song.
The deep cuts are what separates a classic album from a really good album. Aja is good because of songs like “Peg,” “Josie” and yes, “Deacon Blues.” Tracks like “Home At Last” is part of what makes it an album for the ages. Figuratively speaking or not, remember to leave the needle alone after “Peg” fades out.
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