“Cash Only Island” (1996): Steely Dan Sunday

The typical Steely Dan outtake or odd and sod is a mysteriously beast, the subject of whispers and wild speculation, weaving in and out of the audiophile psyche for decades. Greek tragedies of wayward engineers and unfinished masterpieces; secrets so veiled, nary a hint of a track appended to a greatest hits compilation or historical perspective (e.g., Citizen Steely Dan) could be found. Only the emergence of online Blogospheres, Greenbooks, and Chatsites revealed these hidden treasures to the masses.

However, as the 21st Century approached and Steely Dan had flipped into road concert show first, it is fitting that the exposition of the non-released the Steely Dan ditty or two should be inverted as well, with hungry Dan fans exposed and even offered a tasty, raw treat well prior to dinner. Such is the fate of one of the two unfinished songs very early in the recording of Two Against Nature: “Cash Only Island” and “Wetside Story.” Each was a trial balloon released during the Art Crimes tour that scoured the countryside in 1996. Tracks hinted as nascent candidates for the new comeback album, and like that, *poof* they’re gone.

“Cash Only Island” is probably the lesser known of the two, a bubbling concoction of well-cooked horns and slashing guitar. As the live “Cash Only Island” revs up, Walter is tradin’ it with the horn section (Michael Leonhart, Cornelius Bumpus, Ari Ambrose) and John Beasley’s keys on rhythm guitar. We’re propelled by a pretty funky Little Feat shuffle. Tom Barney and Rickey Lawson lay down the voodoo, and the vibe is right tonight. It’s a jammin’ song with a “Teahouse on the Tracks” feel, maybe a virtual beach a few clicks away, where chaos and bedlam reign. The lyrics are a bit difficult to understand — is that “here among the city” or “pheromone city?” — or maybe that’s the point. The listener is ushered through a series of disjointed and scrambled vignettes, like a buzzed celebrator wandering around a sprawling party in the tropics.

Ari Ambrose winding sax solo bursts through the jovial haze, then Wayne Krantz’s angular, sideways stabs and semi-shredding guitar licks hit like a quick moving storm through the sunny island and spike this rum-filled, horn splashed paradise rented by the hour. Krantz’s guest appearances with Dan and Donald have been far too seldom from the solo on “Brite Nightgown” to the live version of “Weather in My Head,” and his improvisations here are a highlight. Not quite as robust a meal as “Wetside Story.”

What goes on at “Cash Only Island” stays at “Cash Only Island.” No, really, it did.


John Lawler

John Lawler

J.M. Lawler is researcher living somewhere left of the Rio Grande, Texas, where he practices science - until he gets it right. He was first exposed to Steely Dan by a neighbor and the static of AM radio at a young age. Reach John at jml2621@gmail.com; contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
John Lawler