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Skunk Baxter — Speed of Heat
(BMG 4050538800678, 2022, DL)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2023-08-15

Speed of Heat Cover art

One has to wonder how a musician gets a nickname like “Skunk,” I know the road can be rough and personal hygiene may not always be as high a priority as it should be, but Jeff “Skunk” Baxter has had his nickname from the beginning. Still, he’s an outstanding guitarist who has been an important asset to every group he’s played with along his career trajectory, as well as being an always-in-demand session player. Probably best known as one of two guitarists in the original Steely Dan up through Pretzel Logic, during which time he started appearing on albums by The Doobie Brothers, playing pedal steel on The Captain and Me and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, and becoming a full member of the band on Stampede. During all that time he appeared on albums by artists as diverse as Carly Simon, Cashman & West, Iain Macdonald, Joni Mitchell, John Sebastian, Hoyt Axton, Joan Baez, Little Feat, Commander Cody, Dolly Parton, Judy Collins, and many many more. Surprisingly, the album at hand, Speed of Heat, is Baxter’s very first album under his own name, seemingly something that should have happened long ago, but when you’re busy as a studio player, time for that is not always available. Here, he relies on some old friends like Michael McDonald and Rick Livingstone to deliver the vocals on the tunes that feature vocals, althogh there are a fair number of instrumentals among the album’s twelve tracks, highlights being the closing title track, the Irish folk-tinged opener “Ladies from Hell,” and the beautiful and jangly guitar orgy “Juliet.” Also worthy of note is a completely instrumental re-imagined version of the Steely Dan hit “Do It Again,” and the curiously Western themed “Apache.” There’s also a vocal take on the early Dan song “My Old School” with a rockin’ punch that overshadows the original. Throughout, drums are handled by Jo Pusateri and Toss Panos, with keyboards by David Paich, with other guests on this track or that. Most of the remaining instruments (bass, guitars, pedal steel and more) are handled by Baxter. The album is extremely varied, with dreamy pieces, hard funk, country sounds, hard rock, and more, most pieces written by Baxter, often with his producer C.J. Vanston. Like a calling card of sorts, this is what Baxter can do.

Filed under: New releases, 2022 releases

Related artist(s): Jeff "Skunk" Baxter

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