“Road Less Traveled” opens up “Westbound & Down,” written by band members Jed Mottley (bass,) drummer Jon Shumway and vocalist/guitarist Jack Maher along with Tyler Neuhausen and Chris Hagerty, a driving track that has elements of Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Flying Burrito Brothers with a twist: the opening riff, the effective guitar electronics and a dash of reggae in the middle, the mix of genres and attitudes which sets the stage on this third studio CD from west coast band Feed the Kitty. “Californica Country Girl” is as memorable and attractive a song as you’ll find, “every city slicker’s wet dream,” fun, clever lyrics about a West Coast gal out of place behind the bar in Alabama. Everything about this song – performance, solid writing and sensitive production from John Lousteau make it so very radio friendly for the summer of 2017. “Bring your Bikini but leave your gun”…she’s a California Country Girl.
Track 3, “Walk with Me,” displays the balance of Westbound & Down, the dynamics in the sequencing, and Maher’s voice so ultra-commercial delivering his line – “heart’s done time, but…” – with the subtlety of a movie star at a key moment, catching the audience off guard. The singer’s tone works perfectly avoiding the eunuch bombast of arena rockers or that swallow-your-tongue 80’s sound of Michael McDonald, Rick Astley and Michael Bolton. Maher’s pitch and soothing inflection are perfect and appealing, pure rock star material. At 2:59 “Walk with Me” is another side of commercial, distinctly different from “California Country Girl,” and a wonderful follow-up that begs repeated spins. “Making My Way” with its energetic country pop shifts gears the way Big Brother and the Holding Company post-Janis Joplin delivered their classic Nick Gravenites tune “I’ll Fix Your Flat Tire Merle” (picked up by Pure Prairie League,) showing that they were more musical than they were ever given credit for…the double edged sword of being on stage with one of the all-time greats and constantly being overshadowed. Feed the Kitty, as a unit, has no such dilemma as this cohesive trio prove Euclid and Aristotle correct about the sum of the parts. These cats drive with an intensity, determination, and yet they know how to take their foot off the pedal and give that sensitive side to keep things interesting.
“Makin’ My Way” with its echoing acoustic intro, blends into a “dangling conversation.” It revolves in quiet emotion — like a slow dance monologue to oneself about getting back home, or to the one you love. Elegant in both vocal and production, a sustained, pensive mode so complete and accurate just as the harder compositions explain the depth of the songwriting and performance better than any critic can. “One More Week” keeps the intrigue going – much of the album by this group that gigs about 300 nights out of the year is about that “one more week” – till the tour draws to a close. It’s – perhaps – best exemplified with the title track “Westbound” which hints thematically at Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” (as does “Makin’ My Way”) – Feed the Kitty rocking it out with a mild C & W twist, to good effect. The band plays contemporary 2017 pop/country drawing from the work of 1960’s masters, but with 20/20 vision for the future of the genre.
The band and songwriter describe Track 9, “Walls,” as “an introspective look at pushing away the ones you love.” It’s a lilting, oh so pretty ballad with strength opening with straightforward solo acoustic guitar, Jack Maher’s pure voice echoing from the confessional, and an honest admission of creating self-imposed barriers. With Shumway’s drums quietly keeping time with smart reverb shimmering, John Lousteau’s understanding production adds a dash of subtle keys at Studio 606, Northridge, California. Breaking out of the reverie at the 3:26 mark, backing vocals giving that subliminal message that the door is opening …ever so slowly (think Richard Perry’s strings on Carly Simon’s “Your So Vain,” having the antagonist on his high horse, well, it’s the opposite here with the composer and/or producer letting you read between the lines.) Where Jim Croce’s magic was the sincerity coming out of his rather unique voice, Maher has a more commercial, precise and engaging set of pipes that he uses to great effect, employing the simple is more strategy – and he comes up with a very powerful and necessary performance.
“Human Race” draws from the great soundtrack maestro Hugo Montenegro – especially Montenegro’s re-working of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the film of the same name while the three minutes and five seconds of “Anxiety” is equally dark, a break-up of what once was, with instrumentation that explains it to the complementary lyrics.
No songs dip under 2:21 and nothing goes over 3:52, keeping the song construct perfect, short and sweet, unlike the Eagles, the band that paved this road and yet, despite all their success, left so much on the table. Feed the Kitty have the instinct from their years of studio work and relentless touring. From “Sorry” to closing track “I’m to Blame” Maher, Mottley and Shumway deliver what’s promised on record as well as from the stage. Producer Lousteau adds just the right touch – the combination of these talents creating something very special that has the potential to give radio listeners melodies that light up the phone lines.
California Country Girl
1) Road Less Traveled (2:58)
2) California Country Girl (3:20)
3)Walk With Me (3:00)
4)One More Week (2:49)
5)Makin’ My Way (3:52)
7)Human Race (2:21)
11)I’m to Blame (2:23)
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.