I recall hearing an interview with Al Stewart of “Time Passages” fame who mentioned that the reason his songs are so lyrically lush (i.e. wordy) is because he believes it’s better to write songs with verses composed of many words and using words with multiple syllables. Stewart stated the fewer sustained notes the better for singers with a limited vocal range.
I’m not sure if Steely Dan’s Walter Becker believes this canon of songwriting but the songs Becker sings live with Steely Dan (“Haitian Divorce”, “Gaucho” “Daddy Don’t Live in New York City,” etc.) and his solo songs from 11 Tracks of Whack and Circus Money seem to bear out this thought process on singing. Producer Larry Klein seems to be the perfect casting director for Becker, too. The album Circus Money features the female vocal ensemble effectively and generously used in a way rarely seen on a Steely Dan album and certainly beyond the use on a Donald Fagen solo album.
The song “Darkling Down” is a perfect culmination of Klein’s production, Becker’s biting, hipster lyrics and bluesy lead guitar with a big dose of female vocal sass. There are some predictably great yet sublime moments in the song. The tight yet playful rhythm section of Keith Carlock on drums, Walter Becker on a R&B inspired bass, Jon Herington on rhythm guitar. They are complimented by swirling organ parts from Larry Goldings. The song doesn’t sound like Steely Dan, nor does it try to, and that’s OK, it’s still great.
Lyrically, however, it sounds very much like Walter Becker. He skillfully takes the listener down the dark, dank rabbit hole to a world Steely Dan fans know and love to watch. With Becker you get to see the seedy back room, indeed you fly down the corridors and are only interrupted by his biting guitar phrases. You know you shouldn’t be there, but you can’t turn away.
“Who will sing about the good bad and ugly? And all and everything in between?” Apparently Walter Becker will!
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