While the album Morph The Cat represented the conclusion of Fagen’s musical trilogy, it was hardly an end. In fact, the album may represent the most productive stage in Fagen’s career.
Fagen started recording Morph The Cat in 2004, shortly after the wind down from the Steely Dan world tour for Everything Must Go. The March 14, 2006 release of this new solo project preceeded a whirlwind press tour, but in the spring of 2006 he did the unlikely: Fagen strolled out his first, and so far only, solo tour.
Since Fagen’s tour band contained all Steely Dan tour alumnus (except for future Steely Dan tour bassist Freddy Washington), the Steely Dan songs they played (covered?) sounded just a great as they did when Steely Dan actually toured later that very same summer. Additionally, Fagen’s band included New York jazz-fusion guitarist Wayne Krantz (an alum from the 1996 Steely Dan tour) to further replicate the sound of Morph The Cat.
Surprisingly once of the highlights of the Morph The Cat tour, which I saw at the Chicago Theater that summer, was the third track on Morph. “What I Do” is lyrically vibrant, and musically sublime. The song touches nostalgically on a young Fagen’s admiration of Ray Charles. Perhaps Charles represented everything Fagen wasn’t, i.e. young, hip and secure. Fagen seems to have grown from his fictitious encounter with Charles, learning that finding his “bad self” was the key to his success with women — and presumably music. “What I Do” presents perhaps one of the most heartfelt and touching lyrics in Fagen’s solo catalog.
The Ray Charles influences are obvious in the music to the track as well. “What I Do” has a soulful electric piano part played by Ted Baker, tightly woven guitar tapestries by Wayne Krantz, Jon Herington, Hugh McCracken and Ken Emerson, and a Raylettes-style call-and-response vocal from Fagen’s stepdaughter Amy Helm, with Carolyn Leonhart and Cindy Mizelle. One of the added bonuses to Fagen’s solo appearance in Chicago back in 2006 was homeboy and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones alum Howard Levy not only provided a blistering solo on the song “Pretzel Logic” during the encore, but earlier in the show reprised his soloist role “What I Do”. Levy is a remarkably gifted musician and his solo on the recorded track and live did not disappoint.
This is real fine soul. Though Fagen said this about Ray Charles, I think it applies to him as well: “I’m specially qualified to keep ‘em satisfied: It’s what I do.”
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