Donald Fagen, "Sunken Condos" (Reprise) -- After three solo records he called "The Nightfly" trilogy, named for the 1982 debut -- with each LP at least a decade apart -- Steely Dan leader Donald Fagen returns to the scene in record time, dropping a fourth album a mere six years after "Morph the Cat." Retroactively calling it a trilogy, though, was always a bit far-fetched, and this certainly isn't a departure. There's little music on "Sunken Condos" that couldn't have slotted seamlessly into any of the previous albums. No creative left-turns here -- it's the same impeccable playing, starchy horn charts and detached tales of beautiful urban losers.
The only added element this time around is a slight, tight feistiness lurking underneath the usual surface sheen of Fagen's elegant Ellingtonia. Chalk it up to his recent touring not only with the now well-worn road version of Steely Dan but also Fagen's two tours with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald as the Dukes of September, playing their favorite old roots rock and R&B. With a backward glance the actual Nightfly would indeed appreciate, Fagen slips in nervous bebop trumpet to shake up "The Memorabilia" and some subtle but rougher-than-usual blues guitar into "The Weather in My Head." Then he turns around and covers "Out of the Ghetto," turning Isaac Hayes' original funk into a winking old hipster groove. A lighter touch, for sure, even if it's still the same alarmingly consistent, overly professional groove.