A one-off by a group of musicians with similar interests.
Allmusic say this in their review of this album: “In 1987, guitarist Ry Cooder, bassist Nick Lowe, and drummer Jim Keltner backed up singer and songwriter John Hiatt on his album Bring the Family; the album was hailed as an instant classic, but negotiations to reassemble the group for Hiatt's next album failed. Five years later, the four musicians were persuaded to give working together another try, but this time instead of backing Hiatt, they'd form a band called Little Village, with all the members writing collectively and Hiatt, Cooder, and Lowe trading off on vocals”. http://www.allmusic.com/album/little-village-mw0000269240
Little Village has also been called a “supergroup” which is also correct.
A supergroup is normally made of members who are already successful solo artists or part of other well-known groups. (The supergroup can, probably, be traced back to the 1968 album “Super Session” with Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, and Stephen Stills).
Normally, the supergroup is a one or two album group (ie: the output of The Highwaymen, Traveling Wilburys), but from time to time they have emerged and been quite popular (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bad Company). What is common to all supergroups is a group of musicians who are into the same music, more or less. The excuse to play with musicians who are on the same wavelength as you is a good time aphrodisiac, which can’t be ignored.
Here Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner were all disciples of American roots rock (and all around the same age). Only Keltner wasn’t a solo front man but he had played with American music greats (Roy Orbison, Delaney & Bonnie, Bob Dylan Clarence Gatemouth Brown and many others).
Check out my other comments for detail on Lowe and Hiatt and the biographical links below.
Given the like minds and the fact that Keltner, Lowe and Cooder had all worked on John Hiatt’s solo album “Bring the Family” in 1987, which was a commercial and critical success, this album was, perhaps, a likely, occurrence .
And this time around they would share the bulk of the work.
Or so it was thought.
Hiatt still does most of the vocals as all but three songs are sung by him, but the songwriting was a collaborative process.
Supergroups rarely have the critical success of each member’s individual recordings and, I suppose, it is because of the “too many cooks …” scenario. They may all be on the same wavelength but when you are trying to share the centre spotlight amongst all the participants things don’t always jell. Inevitably, most supergroup albums end up sounding like a collection of solo tracks for each member.
The exceptions are when some of the participants are willing to take more of a back seat.
Here, Cooder, Lowe and Keltner all take a back seat to Hiatt (who was on a critical roll at the time) and that gives the album a more cohesive sound. The problem though, is, Hiatt isn’t as convincing as Cooder or (Englishman) Lowe.
The songs are performed in his style and come out suiting his temperament but Hiatt has largely been hit or miss (even on his most famous albums) to my ears.
The general reviews for the album at the time were lacklustre whilst the live shows were said to be great, and the youtube live footage available certainly does suggest that seeing four talented musicians strutting (literally) their stuff gives the songs a lift that isn’t present on vinyl.
That’s not to say the record is bad, it isn’t. But it is quite slick (it was 1992) in that mainstream roots way which means it doesn’t have any ragged edges which you would normally expect from this kind of music.
The group disbanded the same year and the members went back to solo work.
All songs written by Little Village and sung by John Hiatt except where noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
- The Solar Sex Panel – a lot of double entendres. Like "Sixty Minute Man" updated for the 90s. The lyric is buried a little in the melody and it is a little naff though humorous if you listen to the lyrics.
- The Action – sung by Ry Cooder – a so-so Ry Cooder song
- Inside Job – ho hum
- Big Love – a slow burn of a song
- Take Another Look – sung by Nick Lowe – a bouncy song done in the familiar Lowe manner. Quite good though a little busier than usual.
- Do You Want My Job – a leisurely Jimmy Buffet type of tune (without the alcohol fuelled fun)
- Don't Go Away Mad – a gentle bounce of a song with far eastern influences. Quite pleasant in its own way.
- Fool Who Knows – sung by Nick Lowe – another good one by Nick.
- She Runs Hot – a boppy tune
- Don't Think About Her When You're Trying to Drive – quite a nice ballad
- Don't Bug Me When I'm Working – plodding, a bit like hard work.
A misfire. Still, I like the individuals … I'm keeping it.
1992 Solar Sex Panel Mainstream Rock #35
1992 She Runs Hot Mainstream Rock #17
The Solar Sex Panel
Take Another Look
Do You Want My Job
Fool Who Knows
She Runs Hot
Don't Think About Her When You're Trying to Drive
- The band name comes from a Sonny Boy Williamson song apparently.
- Personnel: John Hiatt – guitars, lead (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9-11) and backing vocals, piano / Ry Cooder – guitars, backing and lead (2) vocals / Nick Lowe – bass, backing and lead (5, 8) vocals / Jim Keltner – drums, percussion.
- There were a couple of unofficial live albums that followed; "Stage Job" (Swingin’ Pig Records) recorded live in Chicago April 15, 1992 and "Living Action" (Kiss) recorded live in San Francisco April 7, 1992.