I don't really write about music that much on this blog (putting aside the fact that recently, I don't really write about anything much on this blog), and for those that really know me, that's probably a surprise. Music has always been such a big part of my life -- playing it, recording it, listening to it -- that I figure if I'm going to make a go of this "posting most days" thing I may as well try to develop some regular features.
So here's the launch of a semi-regular feature titled "Replay > Album". This is inspired by a review I read this week of Donald Fagen's The Nightfly in the Wall Street Journal (the link should get you there, but if it's behind the pay wall, blame Rupert Murdoch, not me). Each of the posts in this series will take a look at an album or song that at one point in my life was a little mini-obsession. The type of album that you listen to over and over again until it becomes part of the fabric of your life. And then, when you listen to it again, much later, it's like an old friend, or a really worn in sweatshirt, or a favorite dish that your mom made. It simultaneously makes you feel warm and fuzzy while bringing you back to the time you first experienced it. Since I'm making this up as I go along here, give me a chance to develop this idea a bit.
Released in 1982, this album was the first release by Fagan following the breakup of Steely Dan. As a sax player, Steely Dan in the late 70's-early 80's was, of course, one of my favorites (there will probably be at least one other Dan album in this series for sure). At the time, Fagan was known for having incredibly exacting standards in the studio. Looking for just the right sound, just the right mix. Freed of the obligations of being a member of a "band" (read: now without having to listen to Walter Becker), it seemed that The Nightfly was the apatheosis of Fagan's approach. The studio is Fagan's ultimate instrument
In terms of tone, the album has a sweetness to it that offsets the cynical nature most of the Steely Dan canon, as Fagan draws on his youth in the early 60's for inspiration lyrically and musically. There's a jaunty feeling to many of the songs, starting with the bouncy semi-hit I.G.Y. that kicks off the album.
The album moves on through the smooth, driving Green Flower Street and the shuffle of Ruby Baby (dig the piano solo that throws in the little Thelonius Monk flourishes!), before arriving at my personal favorite, Maxine.
Maxine combines Four Freshman-style singing with harmonies only a Dan Fan could appreciate (see this fantastic piece on SteelyDan.com that I have to assume was written by Fagan or Becker on their famous Moo Major Chord, one of the main building blocks of their distinctive sound) and features a tenor solo by Michael Brecker that ecapsulates his melodic, yet somehow not quite in-the-chord approach. I spent many a time hitting repeat on the CD player to try to "get" this solo. It remains one of my favorite sax moments on record. To this particular college freshman, this could have been the ulitmate love song.
The second side of the album (sides?! Albums had sides!), makes its way through the slightly ironic optimism of New Frontier and the askew and angular The Nightfly before closing out with the pseudo cha-cha of The Goodbye Look and the "just for kicks" Walk Between the Raindrops. As an aside (and as you've figured out, this whole thing is asides isn't it?), I once saw Mel Torme perform live in NY and couldn't have been happier than when he did The Goodbye Look. How about that? Mel Torme singing Donald Fagan! The stars aligned on that one.
Album: The Nightfly
Artist: Donald Fagan
Favorite Song: Maxine
Best Lyric: It's a toss up! From New Frontier: " Have you got a steady boyfriend, Cause honey I've been watching you, I hear you're mad about Brubeck, I like your eyes, I like him too" From The Goodbye Look: "Wake up darling -- they're knocking -- the Colonel's standing in the sun, With his stupid face, the glasses, and the gun"
Most Likely Location While Listening: The production studios at WNYT radio station, New York Institute of Technology