Sonic360 Records is pleased to announce the Worldwide (ex-US/Canada) release of Circus Money, Walter Becker’s first solo album in fourteen years. “It is,” the artist acknowledges, “a unique career strategy.”
Over the past 38 years, Becker and his long-time collaborator Donald Fagen have released 10 albums under the Steely Dan moniker. Circus Money is Becker’s second solo effort. To suggest that the new album, produced by Grammy® Award winning Larry Klein, has long been highly anticipated is something of an understatement among the Becker cognoscenti.
It was in 1994 that 11 Tracks of Whack, Becker’s debut solo outing arrived, with conclusive proof that the songwriter, multi-tasking musician and studio habitué had more to say - and more ways to say it - than could be contained in the epochal oeuvre of Steely Dan.
And that itself is saying something, considering the storied career of the estimable duo, with all the masses of platinum and multiples of Grammy amassed by Becker and Fagen over the years - some would say very odd -- years. Yet there was evidently a lot more where that came from, music so idiosyncratic, iconoclastic and ingenious only one artist could rightly be held accountable.
“When I write a song, it matters very much whether it’s intended for me,” Walter explains. “If it is, I can do what I want, within my own frame of reference. I take full responsibility.”
Yet, even allowing for such a forthright admission of liability, the dozen tracks that comprise Circus Money were very much a collaborative endeavor. Aiding and abetting the artist over the nearly three years of the album’s creation was producer Larry Klein, who both produced Circus Money and co-wrote all but one selection.
Klein, of course, brought a wealth of experience to the job, most recently helming Herbie Hancock’s 2007 Grammy® winning Album of the Year, River: The Joni Letters. But it was hardly his resume, however impressive, that drew Becker to Klein.
“We met originally in 1990,” Walter recounts, “and over the years became friends. These songs are very much an outgrowth of that friendship: the gags, the stories, the inside references. At the same time, we had to depend on each other to make sure things didn’t get completely obscure.”
“It was all very fluid,” Klein agrees. “We’d be having a conversation and it would just naturally drift into writing. But at the same time, we kept pushing for a higher level. Writing songs with Walter Becker is like playing tennis with John McEnroe. It keeps you on your game.”
Also at the top of their game was a heavy hitting roster of sidemen assembled for the Circus Money sessions. Among the names familiar to Steely Dan fans are drummer Keith Carlock and guitarist Jon Herington, both of whom have toured widely with the band, while keyboardists Ted Baker and Jim Beard were recruited especially for the occasion. “These are smart, diligent musicians,” Becker observes, “and, with Larry, we had the added benefit of a producer who actually waits to make a suggestion until one is needed. That’s a kind of genius all by itself.”
Walter himself handled all the lead vocals as well as playing bass, a decision that had direct bearing on the album’s point of origin. “The bass gave me a more powerful position to define the direction I wanted the music to take,” he explains.
“As much as anything, that direction had to do with the fact that, for years before I started this project, I was listening almost exclusively to Jamaican music. I even became something of an expert on various sub genres, such as songs about motorcycles and/or featuring motorcycle sound effects; songs about the barbers versus the dreads, and songs about various judicial procedures. I initially had the idea of writing lyrics directly to some of the dub instrumental tracks I was hearing, but, as I got further into the process with Larry we instead used reggae as a sort of stepping-off point. You can hear it, especially in the rhythm section, throughout the album, which is one of the reasons I wanted to be back there working with the drummers.”
It’s a good example of how, for all its talented complement, Circus Money remains a quintessentially Beckeresque enterprise. There is simply no mistaking that point of view or the acumen, acerbity and aching insight that inform it. Three Picture Deal, Paging Audrey, Darkling Down -- the tracks of Circus Money team with the beautiful losers, hopeless romantics and reckless gamblers that roam at will through the realms of Walter Becker. Here, one more time, are the true life tales we never tire of hearing.
“All I can say is that I’m glad Larry came along when he did,” Walter observes. “If he hadn’t, I’d probably still be writing couplets. To me, that’s always been the fun part.”