Donald Fagen – Morph the Cat

By John Henry
Audiophile Audition

Now here’s an artist who hasn’t given up on DVD-Audio, and including with it not only both Dolby Digital and DTS options, but also a separate CD – the best all-around approach to “DualDisc” as far as we’re concerned. If the CD changer in my car weren’t on the fritz I’d be playing the heck out of the CD on the road. As with the projects he does with his partner in Steely Dan, Fagen has put together a sizeable band with some of the top players in the business.   Among them: Frank Vignola and Freddie Washington on guitars, harmonicist Howard Levy, and Fagen himself on various keyboards including Fender Rhodes and B3 organ.

Nobody else is putting out such delightfully jazz-imbued pop music as Fagen and Steely Dan.  Love that they always include all the lyrics in the note booklets. I’m not especially a singer-songwriter fan, but I bet not many performers tackle the variety of subjects Fagen does, or write lyrics which make you think about the subjects so deeply — if you really listen to and read the words.  The title tune is not about a pet cat who is so fat he’s beginning to look like something else. No, it’s about a huge catlike cloud that descends on New York City at night and brings great joy to its citizens. H Gang delves into the plot of a movie that may be the worst of all time.  In What I Do Fagen has a conversation between himself and the ghost of Ray Charles about how to handle women nicely. Fagen read in a bio of W.C. Fields that the comic referred to death as “the fellow in the bright nightgown.”  So he wrote a tune with the chorus: “You can’t fight with the fella in the Brite Nitegown.”  Security Joan reminded me of the Beatles’ Meter Maid – only the object of adoration this time is the security woman at the airport checkpoint. The Night Belongs to Mona describes a woman on the top floor of an apartment who clearly is setting the scene for her own demise.

The surround mix might be thought to place too many backup vocals and instruments on the surrounds, but it sounds just right to me and involves me more in the performances.  Perhaps those complainers don’t have matched speakers all the way around, and don’t like the contrasting timbre when the sounds come from the sides or behind them. The skillful playing and mixing of Fagen’s albums contributes to the high quality listening experience. There are ten or more engineers listed as working on this album, including mix engineer Elliot Scheiner, acclaimed for his surround mixes. I notice it’s much easier to understand Fagen’s vocals on the DTS and DVD-A multichannel tracks than on the 44.1 CD.

Tracks: Morph the Cat, H Gang, What I Do, Brite Nitegown, The Great Pagoda of Funn, Security Joan, The Night Belongs to Mona, Mary Shut the Garden Door, Morph the Car (Reprise)

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