Sunday, October 8, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - The Nightfly

(from the Well we're gonna have a shindig department)

Okay - okay - I know - this isn't a Steely Dan album.  It's a Donald Fagen solo album.  But - we're doing all of the albums - including solo projects.  So - this one's in!

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"I'm Lester the Nightfly
Hello Baton Rouge
Won't you turn your radio down
Respect the seven second delay we use"


Well - radio listeners - you're just in time for Lester The Nightfly's review of Donald Fagen's The Nightfly.

In some ways - this is the ultimate reaction to Gaucho. Gaucho kind of ended up being a final statement from the original pairing of Don'n'Walt - kind of a weird goodbye to the 1970s. Now each of the Dan was free to follow their own destiny for a while. Walter went to Hawaii to regain his health and sanity - Donald ended up diving deep into the studio to tell a story of his youth and lose some of the snark he'd developed over the years.

The tone of The Nightfly belies its composition. According to Wikipedia: "Sessions often stretched long into the evening; Fagen would often refer to this as 'being on the night train.' In the end, the album took eight months to record, and was mixed in 10 days."

Kicking off with I.G.Y. - an acronym for International Geophysical Year - Donald immediately sets the tone of the album. Not burned out and cynical like Gaucho - but optimistic - looking towards the future. He couples these upbeat lyrics with an amazingly hummable melody - and BOOM we're in new territory. The sparkle of the brand new 3M digital system just about seals the deal.

Green Flower Street follows next - one of the more story-like narratives that Gaucho attempted, but this time - it works. The melody leaps out of the speakers - and so does the keyboards.

Ruby Baby - the only cover on the record - is next. I didn't want to like this one - but it's so darn infectious - I ended up loving it anyway. To me - it has a big band swing sound - brassy horns and sassy backup singers.

Maxine finishes out the side - quiet slow gorgeous harmonies - and yeah - quite possibly Donald's best vocal performance(s). Teenage angst and yearning at its finest. The fact that it was created from a discarded drum track just blows my mind.

New Frontier starts out side two. Burbling synth groove perfection - and one of my favorite Donald lyrics. The melody and the story are amazing - and the little touches - the tiny voice singing "Brubeck" in the background after Donald's Brubeck line - amazing. Easily one of my favorite tracks in all of Donald's work. I spent eons analyzing the words in this one: Ambush and a French Twist - I hear you're mad about Brubeck - I like your eyes, I like him too - etc. The eager young suitor as narrator. And - the promo video on the CD Video I mentioned earlier? Also terrific - and still looks amazing today - even converted to HD on YouTube.

The Nightfly was a track I had never really paid close attention to - until I saw it live this year. Then - I really clicked with the lyrics. Now - it's one of the highlights of the album for me. Like reading a pulp novel - set to a great melody.

And speaking of pulp novels - probably my second favorite song on the album - The Goodbye Look. For me - the narrative drive of the lyrics really makes this one. I find the melody as compelling as the other songs - but the lyrics - wow. They're kind of like the culmination of the story of tropical lowlife of Doctor Wu and Here At The Western World - only this time - he knows what's up and he has to get the hell out of that un-named country.

Finally - Walk Between Raindrops. This is the only disappointing song for me on the record. And - it's not a major disappointment by any means. I like the song - it just sounds like anyone could have written it. Which is its charm, I suppose. Donald finally writes the "standard" he'd been hoping to write. Still insanely catchy - and fits perfectly - just... not quite... my jam... I guess...

So - yeah - probably one of the strongest Steely Dan albums that's not a Steely Dan album. Right up there with Aja and Katy Lied for me - even though - lyrically - it's the complete opposite of cynical and bitter. (Which I do happen to normally enjoy - almost too much 😊 )

It also seemed to point to a new future for Donald. Instead - it turned out to be his curtain call for a long time. As he put it, it was the culmination of "whatever kind of energy was behind the writing I had been doing in the '70s.".

Next up - 11 years of... well... not much...

Stay tuned though - in a decade, with the help of therapy, Donald will beat the writer's block he's been struggling with - and finally reconnect with Walter, driving in his Kamakiri.

In the meantime, I'm Lester The Nightfly - signing off... reminding you that we're...

"An independent station
WJAZ
With jazz and conversation
From the foot of Mt. Belzoni"


Cheers,
Paul

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Katy Lied

(from the Can You Hear Me Doctor? department)

Not much to needed to setup this review.  Enjoy!

Oh - yeah - the "parent theory". That's in Everyone's Gone To The Movies. The "parent theory" is that the parents have found someone to watch the kids - and they're finally alone - hence the line "Everyone's Gone To The Movies - Now We're Alone At Last."  Meanwhile - the kids are watching films in the den with Mr. LaPage.  This is probably not a good idea.

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Katy lies
You could see it in her eyes...


So - Katy Lied. Where the 'Dan ends all pretense of being a band and turns into a songwriting/performance/recording collective.

That being said - it's a great album.

Black Friday is the perfect start to this album - it sets the tone for the new Dan and introduces us to the new cast of session players, not to mention the upcoming economic collapse, and some possible activities we can indulge in. From there, we delve into the underbelly of civilization - and the typical Dan lyrical concerns - while the increasingly smooth - and immaculately recorded - sounds flow. Bad Sneakers, Rose Darling, and Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More keep the momentum going - building up to the tropical wasteoid junkie love triangle of Doctor Wu. One of the highlights of the album for sure - and that screaming during the fade? Amazing.

Side 2 kicks off with, oddly enough - another one of my favorite Dan songs. Everyone's Gone To The Movies is lyrically nasty, sonically fascinating and catchy as hell. It's the kind of song you find yourself singing along with - and regretting - but singing along anyway. Yeah - I know - the subject matter - not cool. (And I love some of the analysis I've read here - the parent theory is quite good!) But - I don't think the Dan ever equaled the catchy perversity of this song. Certainly - the demo on Citizen Steely Dan - as well done as it is - is not in the same league. (And, speaking of perversion, we'll have to chat about good old Cousin Dupree later!)

From there, side 2 moves on excellently. Your Gold Teeth II swings, Chain Lightning is tasty as all get out, Any World is soaring, and Throw Back The Little Ones - with it's odd, janky piano - ends the album just right.

There's a lot to like on this one - it's one of my top Dan albums. Even with all the studio cats - the Dan still sounds energized. Something that, unfortunately, did not last on the next album - but I'm getting slightly ahead of myself.

So - yeah - Countdown is still my top Dan album - but this one fights Pretzel Logic (and a couple of worthy upcoming contenders) for the follow-up position.

Cheers,
Paul

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Pretzel Logic

(from the Three weight ounce pure golden ring no precious stone department)

Hi everyone,

Okay - Steely Dan's third album Pretzel Logic is up for review.  I had fallen behind in my reviews, hence the Mr. Hurry McHurry Pants reference at the start.

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Here's my review of Pretzel Logic, Mr. Hurry McHurry Pants 😊 😁 😝

This album is probably the hardest for me to review. When I heard it as a kid - I dismissed it. Except for Rikki. I loved that one.

When I started really appreciating Steely Dan - after the revelations of Countdown To Ecstasy I mentioned in my previous review - I found a lot to like about this one. However - I did feel that it was a retreat from the advances they'd made on Countdown. 11 tracks in 34 minutes - this is a shorter album than Can't Buy A Thrill - and it even has one more song!

Outside of Rikki - the one tune that really stood out for me was - of all things - Charlie Freak. Just like King of the World - I think I really like the narrative driven Steely Dan songs. Love this song - and the sleigh bells? Sounds like Christmas for the Dan to me! I have been known to auto-repeat this song a few times before moving on. Plus - the piano on that track? Amazing.

Found out years later that this was one of their original songwriting demos. That may have been the issue with this one for me - the reversion back from the stretched out arrangements of Countdown to the two minute single conventions of the day. They may have really been trying to write normal "hit" songs on this one - hence the digging back into their songwriting demo material.

But normal for the Dan - is another man's Charlie Freak.😊

So - this was a slow grower for me. Now, I can really appreciate the album as a whole - and with the exception of East St. Louis Toodle-Oo - it really holds together. I'm not a Toodle-Oo hater - not by any means - but it almost seems out of place amongst the misanthropy, although now with CD, it serves as kind of a long intro to Parker's Band. Any Major Dude is a great deep catalog cut - the acoustic guitar is particularly tasty on that one. Barrytown (another demo dusted off) and Night By Night kind of have the patented Dan sound down. Pretzel Logic is a puzzle - unlocked by the time travel narrative drive - but still a puzzle. With A Gun just proves how quickly the band could shift gears - country Dan, anyone? And Monkey In Your Soul sounds like the perfect summation of this phase.

(snipped some tangential thoughts out - not relevant here)

Anyway - Pretzel Logic - for me - the ultimate slow grower. Didn't love it at first, but - yeah - probably one of their best.

Cheers,
Paul


Friday, September 15, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Countdown To Ecstasy

(from the While the poor people sleepin' - All the stars come out at night department)

Next up is Countdown To Ecstasy.  Again - this review is a bit on the terse side.  Sorry about that.

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Okay - since I'm behind - let me catch up with Countdown To Ecstasy.

This is my favorite Steely Dan album - bar none. From the kickoff of Bodhisattva to the last note of King Of The World, this album is a complete stunner - and quite the leap forward from Can't Buy A Thrill: longer songs (8 vs 10 in 40 minutes), more adventurous arrangements, and the sense of being a real band bound together through touring.

Highlights are the spooky guitar solo break in The Boston Rag, the "you are there" feel of My Old School, and the map-like descriptions of Pearl Of The Quarter - but I also find a lot to love in the spiritual cynicism of Bodhisattva, the dissolute lifestyle in Razor Boy, the slight atonal blast for every roulade Cathy Berberian can't sing in Your Gold Teeth and the amazing loop of Show Biz Kids. (Sorry - I love that loop!)

And then there's King Of The World.

I had never realized how beautiful and clever the lyrics in King Of The World are until I heard this version from Joe Jackson:


I then went digging through my album collection, found the Steely Dan version and went "How the heck did I miss this?"

A high-water mark for the Dan - and one that - for me - in some ways - they never quite equaled.

Cheers,
Paul

Friday, September 8, 2017

Steely Dan - Album By Album - Can't Buy A Thrill

(from the Where are you driving Midnight Cruiser? department)

Hi everyone,

On the Steve Hoffman forums, we've been reviewing Steely Dan album by album, and I thought I'd share some of the reviews I'd written here as well.

This is the first one I wrote for Steely Dan's first album - and it's terse.  As we've gone on - the reviews have become more detailed.  Still - there's a little bit of content in this one.

As far a recommendation, this is a very solid debut.  Not quite like the other records in their catalog - they had put the band together just before they recorded it.  The subject matter of the songs are all over the place too - these were probably the best of the material they'd been writing as staff writers for ABC Dunhill.

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Can't Buy A Thrill is the only album in their official cannon that sounds like this - but to my mind - is not their only material that sounds like this.

Dallas and Sail The Waterway should be on this, regardless of what the actual creators think. :)

Heck - some of the Kenny Vance stuff, cleaned up a bit, would fit fine on here.

Although not my favorite SD of all time, I still love this album. Especially for the overarching literary feel - they're trying too hard - but who cares?

Also Midnight Cruiser is an underrated gem. Love Hodder's vocals on that. I agree about the non-airplay cuts too - Dirty Work and Kings are stellar.

As for the hits, they're great - and that guitar solo in Reelin' In The Years still shatters.

An auspicious debut - and points to things to come.

Cheers,
Paul

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Rose with a Rose

(from the It's Poetry, right? department)

Hi everyone,

Took these photos of Rose today on a walk near our house.




She does like roses.

Cheers,
Paul

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Tour of Tsue Chong Fortune Cookie and Noodle Factory - Seattle, May 4th, 2017

(from the You Should Try The Unfortune Cookies department)

Hi everyone,

We got a chance to tour the Tsue Chong Fortune Cookie and Noodle factory in Seattle's International District.  They're family owned and have been making noodles for 100 years.

We got up nice and early and lined up outside:





Soon our tour guide arrived.  He gave us a quick history of the company, then led us inside:



He took us to the 3rd floor - apparently it's a bit quieter there.  We started at the place where they make rice noodles and fried chow mein noodles:








After trying a couple fried chow mein samples, we then moved on to the wheat noodle area.  After giving us some sample noodles to munch on, he showed us the machines that cut the noodles and the noodle drying area:







We then moved on to the fortune cookie machines!  They used to make their fortune cookies by hand.  Then - they got nine machines - four of which are working today.  The rest have been cannibalized for parts, since the company that made them is no longer in business.

One of the machines no longer folds the cookies - it just makes round discs.  They call these "unfortune cookies".  They're still quite good!


These machines make one cookie at a time.  They had a newer machine that makes 4 cookies at a time.  You can see it over there:









After trying some fortune cookie samples, our tour was over.  We wandered around the corner to the small factory store:


and bought some cookies and noodles to take home.  Then - we escaped into a beautiful sunny Seattle day!



Dana surprised at the sun, maybe?

This was a fun tour!  And - it was nice visiting a part of Seattle history!

Cheers,
Paul