On the other side of the 70s country rock that made the Eagles fabulously famous and rich — and drove them eventually to a dark funk that produced songs like “Those Shoes” — dwells Little Feat, emerging from the Zappa/Beefheart camp of SoCal weirdness during the same period, with funky desperate darkness fully intact from the get-go. Theirs was an American vernacular progressive rock, full of smarts and awareness, and as led by guitarist and singer Lowell George (fired as “a favor” by Zappa, who then helped him get a Warners record contract since George was a talent, no doubt), they were the rock and roll revolution from the inside, the real throwdown at the hoedown.
Before George fell to the “weed, whites, and wine” he so eulogized, his band found purchase among audiences in the widening southern rock scenes coming out of northern Florida, middle Texas, and the California fringe, building a heartland reputation based on fiery live performances and a slew of albums that embraced the entirety of the South’s cultures. Their third record, 1973’s Dixie Chicken, saw a lineup shift giving the band’s sound further depth and a strong New Orleans vibe, unapologetic to the point that one of the album’s several centers is a ballsy cover of Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down,” released the year before on Toussaint’s album Life, Love and Faith. It’s the middle of a three-song cycle (of sorts) at the end of Dixie Chicken‘s first side, flanked by “Roll ‘Um Easy” and “Kiss It Off.” In contrast to the album’s better-known, signature Little Feat tunes — “Dixie Chicken,” “Two Trains Running,” “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Juliette” — this slow-burn trio, at turns elegiac, thorny, and weird, and coming when it does in the course of the record, feels unique. It’s hard to imagine other southern or country rock records taking such a risk to slow the pace for three songs across half a side, and it says a lot about how George and Little Feat during this period were more of the school of Randy Newman, thinking cinematically, painting subtle narrative through a vibe at once uneasy and laid back.
“Kiss It Off” sits at the upper register of George’s range — his unmistakable, soulful voice almost straining — and with a sinister, genre-defying synth set against acoustic instruments the music creeps in its twilight beauty, backing an enigmatic lyric
You were the child of some electric nightmare
And you could move mountains with swords of fire
They keep you around to watch their house of gold
Keep the hungry away from the sacred grove
In its scant three minutes it’s miles ahead of anything else happening in American music at the time. A devastating technicolor blues.
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