Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were remarkable craftsmen from the start, as Steely Dan's debut, Can't Buy a Thrill, illustrates. Each song is tightly constructed, with interlocking chords and gracefully interwoven melodies, buoyed by clever, cryptic lyrics. All of these are hallmarks of Steely Dan's signature sound, but what is most remarkable about the record is the way it differs from their later albums. Of course, one of the most notable differences is the presence of vocalist David Palmer, a professional blue-eyed soul vocalist who oversings the handful of tracks where he takes the lead. Palmer's very presence signals the one major flaw with the album – in an attempt to appeal to a wide audience…
The Dan Reed Network were formed in 1984 when school friends and fellow Nightwing band mates Dan Reed and Dan Pred both ended up living in Portland. Along with guitarist Brion James, bassist Melvin Brannen and keyboardist Blake Sakamoto, formerly of Quaterflash. The group went on to release an independent EP, and within two years had signed with Polygram. Their self titled debut album was recorded with producer Bruce Fairbairn. Their first single 'Ritual' became a Top 40 hit in 1988 and a subsequent tour built upon their success.
Dan Tepfer — whom New York magazine dubbed “one of the moment’s most adventurous and relevant musicians” — has criss-crossed the globe over the past several years. The broad success of the pianist’s 2011 album Goldberg Variations / Variations — an improvisational exploration of J.S. Bach’s masterpiece — led to packed concerts from London’s Wigmore Hall, Chicago’s Ravinia Festival and SF Jazz in San Francisco to events in Berlin, Prague, Tokyo, Vancouver and Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge, with The New York Times declaring the latter performance “riveting and inspiring.” Tepfer followed that with Small Constructions, a studio-savvy 2013 album with reed player Ben Wendel, as well as his ongoing collaboration with sax icon Lee Konitz.
A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late '50s/early '60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date. Continuing in the smooth pop-jazz mode favored on the final Steely Dan records, The Nightfly is lush and shimmering, produced with cinematic flair by Gary Katz; romanticized but never sentimental, the songs are slices of suburbanite soap opera, tales of space-age hopes (the hit "I.G.Y.") and Cold War fears (the wonderful "The New Frontier," a memoir of fallout-shelter love) crafted with impeccable style and sophistication.
It's not surprising that Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker's debut solo album sounds like a Steely Dan record. What is a little surprising, though, is that, in his lead singing debut, he sounds so much like his erstwhile partner, Donald Fagen. Not that you'd mistake the two (Fagen projects more and is slightly grittier), but they sing in the same register with the same sly phrasing and the same accent. Other differences from the Dan are equally subtle: Becker adopts a sparer musical approach, for one thing, the missing element being the prominence of Fagen's keyboards (although Fagen does play on the record and co-produced it). Nothing gets in the way of Becker's voice, and he proves to be a less ornate lyricist than Fagen, restricting himself largely to tales of romantic dislocation. On the whole, this album sounds like what you'd expect – one half of Steely Dan.