By Mike Perciaccante
Coming a mere 14 years after his last and first solo recording, Walter Becker’s Circus Money sounds a lot like Steely Dan — jazzy, pop rock over witty, somewhat sarcastic and sardonic lyrics. By mixing in a bit of reggae, Becker has released an album that fits in well with the Steely Dan canon, yet stands up well on its own.
Featuring the expected strong production values and superb performances, Becker and company have produced a disc that is equal to any of Donald Fagen’s solo offerings and just a notch below the classic Steely Dan releases.
As with any Steely Dan CD or, for that matter, any project headed by Fagen or Becker, the protagonists and characters that populate the songs are a bit desperate. The songs on Circus Money are about the human condition, but more precisely desperation. There are songs about gambling (“Door Number Two”), loss and ultimately regret (“Paging Audrey”) and sex (“Door Number Two”), as well as manipulation, lust and all things carnal (“Selfish Gene”).
While Fagen’s solo recordings — The Nightfly (Reprise, 1982), Kamakiriad (Reprise, 1993), andMorph The Cat (Reprise, 2006) — have been basically concept albums, and the same can be said for many Steely Dan releases, Becker’s album is simply an album of songs with similar themes that have come together at a point in time.
Sonically pleasing, the soulful, groove-driven CD is played to perfection by Becker and his cohorts — drummer Keith Carlock, guitarist Jon Herington and keyboardists Ted Baker and Jim Beard. The feel is reminiscent of Steely Dan, but is smaller and slightly more intimate.
Though hardcore Steely Dan fans might at first be a bit surprised at the Jamaican influences — Becker was reportedly listening to a lot of classic Jamaican music prior to writing and recording the album — Circus Money is a disc that reveals more with every listen. The title track is excellent, while “Somebody’s Saturday Night” and the aforementioned “Door Number Two” sound like classic Steely Dan. A welcome return.