Don Breithaupt, song-writer, singer, general Rhodes, synth and Wurlitzer man for Monkey House, never lost Rikki's number and his band of chilled, consummate musicians out-Steely the Dan themselves on much of their material.
It is worth pondering whether Steely Dan came out of more of a 'background', if one can phrase it that way, than we might have previously assumed. Perhaps when you put together the funk and soul and jazz traits, the rhythm and blues and Fifties pop influences, they may not have been such a one-off as we think. Hard one to prove, of course, without listening to a whole swathe of early Seventies material.
Sure, no one can sound like Steely Dan singer and keyboardist Donald Fagen - no one but Donald Fagen has ever sounded like Donald Fagen. Yet it is possible that the sophisticated musical hives of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia had acts that sounded like they might have been the progenitors or, if not, forerunners of Steely Dan. They just may not have gotten the breaks and they may not have had the wild imagination and smarts that made Can’t Buy a Thrill, Steely Dan’s debut album, released in 1972, such a refreshing entity.
So where do Monkey House fit into all this? Breithaupt was born in 1961, Donald Fagen, co-founder with the late Walter Becker of Steely Dan, was born in 1948, for what it's worth. So Monkey House certainly did not come out of the same scene, things had evolved somewhat.
Nevertheless, among Monkey House's collaborators are trumpeter Michael Leonhart, a regular Steely Dan accomplice. The band's reading of Becker's The Book of Liars is a sure-footed, hugely appealing tribute to the musician who died in September 2017, at which time Monkey House were recording the album.
Producer Peter Cardinali gives free rein to the characteristic Dan stylings, the sophisticated keyboard work, the angular, fluidly instinctive guitar runs, the breezily assured brass, the flower blooms of harmonies, supplied by The Manhattan Transfer on one track, The Jazz Life.
A distinct highlight is the tender, sad love ballad, Welcome to the Rest of the World - yep, even the titles are Dan-like - with Breithaupt sounding a little like Paddy McAloon of Prebab Sprout. The Newcastle lad also listened to Pretzel Logic in his day. Nine O’Clock Friday, featuring a gutsy guitar solo from Drew Zing - who has also worked with Steely Dan - and Because You are lush with great hooks.
Brainyard is an urgently bright ska tune, but right after it comes the final track, Island off the Coast of America, which restores the Dan hommage template. The track is as mannered and rich as anything from Gaucho or Aja, one last blast of majestic Dan nostalgia before proceedings draw to a close.
Sure, the lyrics seem a bit Christopher Cross and earnest betimes and Steely Dan would never have written that kind of soft lyric for Nine O'Clock Friday. Monkey House's verses can at times be a teeny bit laboured too - their lines are not gnomic or obscure as Becker and Fagen's wistfully hard-bitten musings.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter much who Monkey House sound like, the stuff is wholesome and very, very good. To oversee something as polished as this, where every note counts, Breithaupt should be a wrung-dry, nervous wreck, on promo clips. However, on the EPK clip - see above - he is as calm and relaxed as Pat Boone. Now that's something . .