Chinese Work Songs
CMC International Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/12/2000
As I write this review, Chicago is being hit by the first big snowstorm of the year. It took me over an hour to get to work, and I know that I'm probably looking at a 90-minute drive home. The temperature tonight is expected to be five below zero - just the kind of weather a bronchial asthmatic likes to shovel snow in.
There's only one problem with this whole scenario: I don't care. You see, I just got through listening to Chinese Work Songs, the latest release from Little Feat, and in my head, I feel like I'm down in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras. That kind of festive music can have amazing powers.
Admittedly, Little Feat have been, at best, uneven throughout their 30-year career. When they're on their game, they're unstoppable. When they come to the table with less than their "A" material, all bets are off. I also admit to having fallen out of touch with Little Feat over the last few years; while I've been listening to their Lowell George-era releases, the last new disc I bought from them was Representing The Mambo some years back.
So I can't honestly tell you if this album is a return to form for Little Feat or a continuation of a hot streak... but who cares, so long as the music is this good?
Chinese Work Songs is an eclectic mixture of originals and covers, celebrating the pure joy in music. By covering Phish's "Sample In A Jar," Paul Barrere and crew uncover in themselves the jam band that has always been hidden in the background. This is further emphasized on the original track "Just Another Sunday," a track which absolutely bursts forth with musical brilliance. And if the title track doesn't get you up and dancing, you'd best check your pulse.
This isn't to say that the road on Chinese Work Stones is paved with golden stones. I have to wonder out loud if we really needed another cover of both "Rag Mama Rag" (which, admittedly, is a solid effort) and "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry". The latter tune, ending on a slow, bluesy note, is actually an anticlimactic way to bring this disc to a close. And as much as I want to appreciate the song for what it is, I just cannot get into "Gimme A Stone".
Still, Chinese Work Songs has many positive qualities to it, not the least of which is the brilliant musicianship of people like Barrere, vocalist/percussionist Shaun Murphy and guitarist/vocalist Fred Tackett. There's a reason why this band has been around as long as it has, and stubbornness isn't that reason.
If you've fallen away from the Little Feat camp of late, Chinese Work Songs is the kind of disc that should quickly revive your interest, and works as well as a mug of hot chocolate to carry away the chills, either of a personal nature or weather-related.