DONALD FAGEN – Sunken Condos (2012)
It took DONAL FAGEN nearly a quarter century to release his Nightfly Trilogy, which started with his first solo album in 1982 and wrapped up with 2006’s ‘Morph the Cat’.
To be released tomorrow, “Sunken Condos”, the fourth solo album by the Steely Dan singer, is a slightly looser record than its predecessors, with more emphasis on groove this time around.
And it sounds like it could be the next chapter in the solo odyssey Fagen started 30 years ago.
By early 2010, Fagen had enough songs written for a whole new album, one that was worked on around Dukes Of September (the super group including soulful old friends Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs) and Steely Dan tours.
No concept this time, but there’s plenty of coherency. Mostly dwelling on themes of romance gained, maintained and lost, with just a touch of that Steely Dan absurdist humor and plenty of well-hidden jokes (most of which I’ve still yet to figure out, but that’s half the fun), Fagen is working in familiar territory with no erosion of his songcrafting mojo.
He remains masterful at the mid-tempo groove, fully realized bridges, and will jump on any opportunity to add an extra, enriching chord or two to keep the progressions from getting too predictable.
Opener “Slinky Thing” is a perfect example of that silky groove with its cool acoustic bass and vibraphone combination, where Steely Dan’s mainstay guitarist Jon Herington adds his versatile skills and some wah-wah sass.
Fagen’s fuzzy urban blues is present in the 12-bar form of “Weather In My Head”, a track with warm guitars all over and a classic L.A. sound.
The lone cover, Isaac Hayes’ “Out Of Ghetto” won’t recall much of anything Fagen has done before, while the smooth westcoast sounds in “Good Stuff” have really nice vocal harmonies.
Even on the tracks that do hearken back to his previous solo albums or Steely Dan, there’s a vivid vitality in the music. “Miss Marlene”, a buoyant jazzy shuffle with precise six-string articulations recalls his 2nd album, nonetheless it has a lighter feel.
The advance single “I’m Not The Same Without You” is a commercial and breezy westcoast number with a floating rhythm section, classic keyboards and soft velvety vocals.
“Sunken Condos” is a bluesy, smooth jazzy-westcoast collection of songs musically precise as anything Fagen has recorded, with or without Steely Dan.
No surprise, since many of the musicians have played with him in one form or another over the years. Save for keyboardist Jim Beard and drummer Keith Carlock, everyone else from the Steely Dan road band is present on this album.
Most of the nine songs make room for efficient solos, tasteful backing vocals and the cleanest crystal-clear production that you are able to get, sculpting natural analog-y sounds.
A must for smooth westcoast and Steely Dan fans.
01 – Slinky Thing
02 – I’m Not The Same Without You
03 – Memorabilia
04 – Weather In My Head
05 – The New Breed
06 – Out Of The Ghetto
07 – Miss Marlene
08 – Good Stuff
09 – Planet D’Rhonda
Donald Fagen – vocals, keyboards
Jon Herington – guitar
Freddie Washinton – bass
Michael Leonhart – drums, keyboards, winds, vibraphone, background vocals
Jim Beard – keyboards
Keith Carlock – drums
William Galison – harmonica
Walt Weiskopf – sax
The Steely Dan Horns – horns
Catherine Russell, Cindy Mizelle – backing vocals
BUY IT !