At a party a few months ago, I was enjoying a very 2022-sounding playlist of Charli XCX and rap stuff when someone threw on Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen”. I was flabbergasted. WHO had the cojones to throw on this cut from Gaucho, my favorite Dan album, and interrupt the frenetic hyper-pop with this smooth whiteboy funk? And why was it so GOOD?
Okay, so alcohol was involved, but I’ll never forget how (probably embarrassingly) excited this made me. That late 70s LA sound is so special, so fine and mellow, with slick session musicians who cut classic records in the place where it never rains. Chuck Rainey is here, who played bass on most Steely Dan albums, as is Victor Feldman, who also played (percussion/keys) on most Steely Dan albums. Jay Graydon, who plays guitar on Aja‘s “Peg”, provides a sick solo here on standout “What’s Become of Us”. Multiple horn players here also recorded with Steely Dan.
It makes sense then, that I think of the Dan when I pop on Wild Child, its opener “Crazy” just dripping with that disco-era production, all soulful and sexy. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Valerie Carter, other than that she was a singer-songwriter who worked with James Taylor and similar artists. She passed away in 2017, and her relative anonymity in the pop world today has me approaching this album almost as more of a Columbia Records group project than a solo album.
Wild Child doesn’t really separate Carter from her contemporaries (Jackson Browne, Phoebe Snow etc.) in that it is lyrical content is all love songs, and musically it’s pure Yacht Rock. This album’s strength is in its consistent quality. “Taking the Long Way Home” is sappy, but builds to a tight climax. “The Blue Side” rolls in like a Pacific breeze. “Wild Child” closes the set on an extremely strong note, with Feldman’s jazzy atmosphere and Carter’s most arresting vocal performance. Though it lacks that X factor found in stone-cold classic albums, Wild Child doesn’t deserve to be a forgotten, bargain-bin mainstay. It’s an excellent record with lasting music, and a defining piece of the late-70s LA sound.
Listen to Wild Child here.