While some pop rock artists in the 70s tried to be the next Eagles or Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan is the rare mainstream artist to have very few, if any, imitators. Their style of jazz infused rock with precise production and tight performance has no doubt influenced many yet yielded few peers. Maybe it just took us some time to catch up to them and their innovative sound because in the last few decades I have heard more bands especially from other countries that have heavily added some of that Steely spice into their cookbook.
One of my favorite NuCoast bands is a Canadian quartet from Toronto called Monkey House. Formed in the early 90s by singer/songwriter Don Breithaupt, who also wrote one of the Continuum 33 1/3 Series of books on Steely Dan’s Aja, Monkey House have released 6 albums with each one sounding more and more like a lost Fagen and Becker session. Their last release in 2016, Left, featuring past and current Steely collaborators, Michael Leonhart and Jay Graydon, reached #24 on the Billboard Jazz albums chart, but that may be misleading as tracks like My Top 10 List and the Purdie Shuffle-esque It’s Already Dark In New York lean more towards WestCoast jazz rock.
The track I feel Steely fans may enjoy the most is the tune, It Works For Me off of the Left album. If you ever wondered what the Dan would have sounded like in 2000 had they used the Pretzel Logic era rather than the Gaucho era as a jumping off point, this would be it. It Works For Me is a concise pop song that still leaves room to breathe, featuring horn riffs that are reminiscent of My Old School, lead guitar by Reelin In the Years soloist, Elliott Randall and mu chords galore, utilizes the best of Steely’s assets, transforming them into a contemporary pop arrangement that should have received wider recognition. Lyrically reflecting a world where thinking for yourself means taking a stand against those who always tell you what to do, Don B’s vocal stylings come off a little smoother than Don F’s but the words that are sung are still reminiscent of the latter’s wry humor and unique outlook.
Monkey House is planning their seventh release late this year, so get in on these guys before they break out.