Donald Fagen

Morph the Cat

“So rich is his charisma, you can almost hear it sing,” croons Donald Fagen in the title song of his new solo album. Fagen, the vocalist of Steely Dan, has his own charisma, and this set of smooth tunes gleams with his usual charm. Fagen’s 58-year-old voice has an air of perpetually jaded youth bonded to its velvety-rough tone, and the musical settings he devises for that voice impart an elegant ennui. Tempos seldom rise above the speed of a relaxed heartbeat, and the arrangements are streamlined vehicles wrought of electronically refined woodwinds, brass, piano, bass and guitars. Even the solos, such as the fine muted trumpet of Marvin Stamm on “The Great Pagoda of Funn,” never do more than ruffle the sleek surface. It’s Fagen’s lyrics and vocal delivery that elevate the album beyond the level of too-easy listening. So when he sings, in “The Night Belongs to Mona,” that “Sometimes she’ll call at some unholy hour / She wants to talk / All of this grim and funny stuff,” we know he’s describing his muse.