Steely Dan Sunday, “Paging Audrey” (2008)

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The allure of Walter Becker’s music is often found in how it differs from Steely Dan music, and the differences can be numerous. Enough so that Steely Dan fans aren’t necessarily solo Walter Becker fans. “Paging Audrey” is a notable exception; over both 11 Tracks of Whack and Circus Money, this one is his most Steely Dan-ish.

With a production sheen as smooth as Gaucho, Larry Klein’s discriminating sonic spacing makes it possible to hear the bass, guitar, drums and no less than four keyboards separately and at the same time creating a single, music-making unit. Becker’s wearied, relaxed vocal gets a nice assist from the female backing singers as they sing over a tight, mid-tempo funk progression, transitioning into a suspended bliss for the chorus. Chris Potter is there to handle the solo chores on tenor sax, a potent mixture of Phil Woods and Michael Brecker.

Klein, who co-wrote this little gem with Becker, had to talk Becker into handling the bass duties for Circus Money, and when I listen to “Audrey”, I’m really glad he did. Becker is so precise and knows how to groove even when the groove is slow. He sometimes fakes out the listener with his note placement, dropping an occasional one off the beat instead of on it, and it just makes things subtly more funky.

The sublime charms of “Paging Audrey” make this song one of Becker’s finest moments as a solo act, one that can stand alongside the best from his erstwhile partner Donald Fagen. Or Steely Dan proper, for that matter.

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