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Thomas Jefferson Kaye: First Grade

Album Notes

Thomas Jefferson Kaye steps out of his usual spot in the producer's chair for his second record, 1974's First Grade, handing the reins over to Gary Katz (Steely Dan). Together, Kaye and Katz create what appears at first to be a fairly typical bit of M.O.R., L.A. rock -- caught somewhere between tepid country-rock, Southern boogie, and the pointed sophistication of Steely Dan (he covers a couple of Becker and Fagen and rarities). The record kicks off with the brief, overtly autobiographical "Northern California" (it actually begins, "My name is Thomas Jefferson Kaye, I was born in North Dakota"), which on its own has a certain sweet poignancy, but paired with the lightweight "Easy Kind of Feeling" which follows, sets you up for a California yawn-fest. A nice treatment of Dr. John's funky "Sho-bout to Drive Me Mad" picks things up a bit before Kaye makes a pleasant, yet unexpected turn with two terrific covers to close Side One. Loudon Wainwright's sly and aching "Say That You Love Me," and the disillusionment of Becker and Fagen's "American Lovers" are both delivered with the same intelligence you would expect of their respective authors, yet are as palatable as anything the Eagles or Todd Rundgren may have turned out in the early part of the decade. The second side opens with "Jones," another previously unreleased Becker and Fagen and gem, and closes with a trio of self-penned tunes. Of the three originals, the soulful boogie of "L.A.," with it's sardonic refrain of "everything's gonna be all right" sung by Dusty Springfield, Clydie King, and Shirley Matthews, and the dark resignation of "All Cried Out" work just fine, but the limp rocker, "One Man Band" is a disappointing closer. First Grade may start a little slowly and stumble to the finish line, but there's plenty of substance in the middle to make it worthwhile. Becker and Fagen, and former Poco bandmates Richie Furay and Timothy B. Schmit, and guitarist Rick Derringer are among the guests. Reissued on CD as a two-fer with Kaye's debut by Edsel in 1995. ~ Brett Hartenbach


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