Donald Fagen, Rickie Lee Jones, Anthony Robustelli + Others: Five for the Road

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Five for the Road is an occasional look at the compact discs and / or downloads that have been in my car recently – some new, some old. This time, there is a distinctive thread involving Walter Becker and Donald Fagen throughout …

ANTHONY ROBUSTELLI – THE STEELY DAN SESSIONS (2017): Hot on the heels of his fantastically insightful book, Steely Dan FAQ comes Anthony Robustelli’s interpretation of Steely Dan songs. If you’ve picked up his book, you’ll undoubtedly know he’s a true authority on Steely Dan with insightful analysis and research. The Steely Dan Sessions is anything but antiseptic – or even predictable. While there are other sources for interpretation of Steely Dan hits, Robustelli ties together a bunch of songs which never properly saw the light of day. He handles most of the major instruments and lead vocals, and he engages a crack group of New York-based players on horns and vocals to awe the listener. Sure, most Steely Dan fans have heard versions of “The Second Arrangement” and “(You Got) The Bear,” but these version sound fuller and more fleshed out. Add to that full-band versions of “I Can’t Write Home About You” and an extended jam of “Let George Do It,” and you can’t help but be amazed by Anthony Robustelli’s vision of near classics from Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

CHINA CRISIS – DIARY OF A HALLOW HORSE (1989): China Crisis always had a knack of obtuse lyrics. When the hooked up with Steely Dan’s Walter Becker for their third album Flaunt the Imperfection, he added a needed element of sophistication which enhanced their lyrical bite. Becker returned to produce their fifth album, bumping up their game to another new level. He produced most of the songs on the album and his tracks shine, utilizing the late Kevin Wilkinson on drums and Gary “Gazza” Johnson on bass to full effect. Recorded at Becker’s studio in Hawaii with Roger Nichols engineering, Diary of a Hallow Horse sounds amazing. The song “Stranger By Nature” (with Becker on lead guitar) and the title track (with a Jim Horn tenor solo) simply amaze. This is a must-have album for Steely Dan fans as well as any China Crisis fan.

RICKIE LEE JONES – FLYING COWBOYS (1989): “The Horses,” written by Rickie Lee Jones and her Flying Cowboys producer Walter Becker, is one of my favorite songs. But Jones’ fourth LP is graced with many high points. Geffen Records, her record label at the time, had high hopes for this project; the plan was for Becker to restore Jones to platinum success. While that wish went unrealized (the album peaked at No. 39), they did go on to make an adventurous project which rivals her first two releases in complexity, accessibility and scope. Becker enlisted Roger Nichols of Steely Dan fame again for his sonic know how, and called on a stunning array of musicians such as Dean Parks, Greg Phillinganes and Peter Erskine to support Jones’ diverse and always interesting songs. “Ghost Train” is an excellent example of stellar songwriting and unobtrusive production. I love this album!

ROSIE VELA – ZAZU (1986): Former model Rosie Vela jumped into music in a big way here, enlisting Gary Katz as her producer. The result is a release with a decidedly ’80s feel. Vela also wrote or co-wrote all nine songs, which are hooky and quirky at the same time. “Magic Smile” features both Donald Fagen and Walter Becker on synthesizer, their first in studio meet-up in years; elsewhere, Becker pulls out his guitar for a whacked solo on “Interlude.” Even more stunning is the song “Boxs,” which manages to be weird and wonderful. It’s a shame the album didn’t garner much air play in the U.S. Vela’s second album “Sun Across the Altar” ended up going unreleased.

DONALD FAGEN – KAMAKIRIAD (1993): Yes, I love Donald Fagen. Yes, I love The Nightfly, but I’d rather listen to the album that beat it for album of the year, Toto IV. Why such sacrilege? The Nightfly sounds too much like Steely Dan. Yes, that’s great – and, I guess, how could it not? That being said, Fagen’s second solo effort, the Top 10 and Grammy-nominated Karmakiriad, sounds like a proper solo album. How is that, when Walter Becker produced it, played all the bass and solo guitar and even co-wrote one song? Donald Fagen has an even more fleshed-out lyrical theme for the album, which sounded weird at the time but I always enjoyed. Musically and sonically, the album is tight and precise yet funky and funny. “Countermoon” is a gem lyrically, and Fagen has rarely found such a great groove. “On the Dunes” is a vivid as anything Fagen has done; Cornelius Bumpus, of Doobie Brothers fame, adds his name to the short list of great Steely Dan / Walter Becker / Donald Fagen sax men. Karmakiriad is highest-charting Donald Fagen album for a reason.


Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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  • Sonny Clark

    Toto IV?

    • Preston Frazier

      Yes, Toto IV! Don’t worry, you’re not the first to say that. I love both. Both also stand the test of time. Thanks for you comments.

      • Sonny Clark

        Jeff Porcaro did some SD session work but the comparisons btwn both bands stop there (not that u we’re comparing them) and Nightfly, which as you say was a bit more Dan like, to my mind, stands up as among the best of both SD and DF’s output – a bit of a masterpiece that has stood the test of time. I’ve liked the rest of DF’s solo work but there’s been an over-reliance on funkier grooves (not that I have an issue with the funk), so not quite as interesting to me musically as Nightfly.

        • Preston Frazier

          Check out Toto’s One The Run, Chinatown or Lukather’s Never Walk Alone. The Steely Influence is obvious and Toto doesn’t try to hide it. jeff and David Paich were both heavily influenced by their work on Pretzel Logic.

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