Tunes from the estimable Little Feat catalog, combined with some choice covers, find their way on to Join The Band, wherein Little Feat collaborate with a star-studded crew of musicians and producers. Since the death of founding member Lowell George, the group has maintained its artistic credibility over the years, albeit fitfully at times, but the choices of songs and personnel here are astute.
Join the Band is shrewd in its aim toward Little Feat’s core demographic, new fan and old. Essentially it’s the same one courted by executive producer Jimmy Buffett, who sing, appropriately enough, on a reggae/calypso arrangement of "Time Loves A Hero.” Yet fans of Brooks and Dunn will be as curious to hear their heroes on "Willin’" as Black Crowes fans will be to hear Chris Robinson croon "Oh Atlanta;" the latter is a slice of vintage Feats funk in which the singer puts his distinctly Southern voice to most effective use.
The genre hopping here occurs without undercutting the integrity of the respective styles of the material or the artists involved. Bela Fleck joins Little Feat to render The Band’s "The Weight" sounding like nothing so much as sung in a gospel choir church during the days of the Civil War. Alternately, "Something in the Water" has its comic absurdity captured in the Chuck Berry bounce that’s right in Bob Seger’s wheelhouse. As outside musicians, including Buffett’s own Coral Reefer Band, are occasionally intermixed with Little Feat, Mike Gordon is one of the most high profile role-plays; yet it is his bass playing on Woody Guthrie’s "This is Your Land” in a witty country-blues treatment, that grabs attention and makes the Phish bassist’s appearance memorable.
At once a tribute and reaffirmation of the versatility of Little Feat, Join the Band’s highlight may be "Sailin’ Shoes," with Emmylou Harris, bluegrass master Sam Bush and Fleck: in a remarkable execution of dynamics, the performance morphs from its languid vocal section to a full-tilt hoedown. It’s a transition so effective it will remind long-time Feats fans why they love the band and give a hint to novices why they should.