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I have a tendency to become obsessed with bands for periods of times. Sometimes it’s a few months. Sometimes it’s a few years. During this period of time I usually end up getting most, if not all, of the band’s material and trying to learn everything thing there is to know about them.
About five years ago, I became thoroughly absorbed with Little Feat. Over the course of a few months, I managed to get everything that they had put out during the 1970s. Though the band is currently still performing, and has put out several albums in the past 25 years, I refrained from purchasing those albums. The reason was that I was not just a fan of Little Feat, I was a fan of Little Feat when their founding member, and predominant songwriter, Lowell George, was in the band. I don’t know if it was his voice, or his songwriting, but there was a huge difference between the band with and without George, and I did not like the latter.
Because of this I ended buying his only solo record, Thanks I’ll Eat It Here (he died in 1979 while touring to support the album). Being that I was a huge fan of his work in Little Feat, I had certain expectations for the album, which in general, were not fulfilled. I was expecting a lot of funky, bluesy, and sometimes quirky material with a lot of slide guitar, all of which George was known for. Instead, I heard a very slick, hodge-podge album that was nothing that I expected.
To say the album is bad would be an untrue statement. It’s not bad at all, and there are actually a few very good tracks on it. I personally just have a few issues with the album in general.
The first is that production is way too slick. I’ve never been a big fan of overproduction, especially with rock music. I want an album that sounds and feels like I’m sitting in a room hearing it live. Thanks I’ll Eat It Here sounds nothing like that all. It sounds like a typical mid-late 1970s pop album. All of the tracks within each song sound crisp and clear, with a lot of wah-wah guitar, electric piano, and a heavy dose of horns. In reality, those last three items aren’t negatives at all, but the way they are presented just sounds a little too clean and poppy for my taste.
The second issue I have is that half of the tracks are covers, while four of the other five are co-written by George and someone else, with the song written only by him being originally recorded by Little Feat. Really, this isn’t that big of an issue, but being a huge fan of songs that George wrote previous to this record, and knowing how fantastic they are, it’s kind of disappointing to see that he resorted to recording covers. Now I should note that he was not in the greatest health during this recording, and was simultaneously working on what would be his last record with Little Feat, Down on the Farm (a very subpar album for them), so he may not have had the time to write a lot of material. On top of this, his performances on the covers are quite good, and really show how great of a singer he was. Still, it would’ve been nice to have a solo album with most of the material being written by him.
But as I said previously, the album isn’t that bad, and at times is quite enjoyable. The arrangements of the songs, whether original or cover, are pretty damn good, and George’s voice sounds amazing for a man who was in bad health. For the most part the best songs on the album are his originals. “Honest Man” is a truly funky and soulful song that brings back memories of the Little Feat albums, Dixie Chicken and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, though with a much more polished sound. A reworking of “Two Trains,” from the aforementioned Dixie Chicken, may sound different from the original version, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have the same feel and vibe. It’s a great song, and one of my favorite songs by George, and this version really shows off how soulful his voice could be.
The real gem of the album, however, is the song “20 Million Things.” Evoking the beauty, both lyrically and musically, of “Willin’” and “Long Distance Love,” two of George’s best songs, the song just grabs your attention with the amount of emotion that it expresses. This is emphasized by George’s ability to control and manipulate his voice to convey the emotion he intends. Just a truly wonderful song.
The covers, for the most part, are well done, and though they don’t stand out from the George originals, they are solid nonetheless. The best of the bunch is a funky version of the Allen Toussaint song “What Do You Want The Girl To Do,” which opens the record, that sounds more like the Box Scaggs version than the original. Filled with a heavy horn section and a laid back feel, it does a nice job of setting up the entire album. The other standouts include a straight up rendition of Anne Peebles’ classic, “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” and a New Orleans tinged version of Ricki Lee Jones’ “Easy Money.”
Overall, Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, is a solid album, but one that I would not suggest you go run out and buy. While there are moments where you can hear what made Lowell George such a great songwriter and musician, the album doesn’t do the man justice. His best work was done with Little Feat, where he not only showcased his songwriting and singing, but his slide guitar playing, which is pretty much absent on this album. If you’re interested in the best work of Lowell George, go get and/or listen to Sailin’ Shoes and Dixie Chicken, both by Little Feat. Otherwise, don’t feel bad if you don’t listen to Thanks I’ll Eat It Here, you won’t be missing too much.