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Various Artists: The Royal Dan – A Tribute

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan are the kings of sophisticated, sensual pop-jazz with smart, smarmy and sarcastic lyrics. If you’ve ever wondered what their pleasing music would sound like without the lyrics but with aggressive rock-jazz musicianship, wait no more. Producer Jeff Richman assembled the kings of today’s edgy jazz-fusion to turn cream into grit: drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Jimmy Haslip, keys-and-horn man Peter Wolf, saxophonist Ernie Watts and Richman himself on rhythm guitar. But that’s just the backing band. This is a guitar CD, with Richman taking the lead on “Peg” and inviting nine other guitarists to let their fingers substitute for Fagen and Becker’s vocals.

Of course, get 10 fusion guitarists together in one room and it’s unlikely you’ll find any tunes that simply follow the Dan’s original structure. There’s tons of jamming, and such well-known staples as “FM” and “Home at Last” are rendered almost unrecognizable by Frank Gambale and Jay Graydon, respectively. You’ll hear more of the same with Richman on “Josie,” Robben Ford on “PEG,” Steve Morse on “Bodhisattva,” Steve Lukather on “Pretzel Logic,” Mike Stern on “Dirty Work,” Jimmy Herring on “The Fez” and Elliott Randall on “Hey Nineteen.” The only concession to the “nice” Dan sound comes from Al Di Meola’s sweet nylon strings on “Aja.” Otherwise, this is a very nasty tribute.

Originally Published