Sea Level recorded their fourth album for Capricorn on the cusp of the label's 1979 bankruptcy, and Long Walk on a Short Pier went unreleased in the United States for nearly 20 years, finally issued in 1998 by a resurrected Capricorn, with distribution through Mercury/Polygram. The album continues down the path of the band's third album, 1978's On the Edge, caught up in a disco-fied era and trying a little bit of this, a little bit of that, hoping that something might catch fire. Or maybe, with the group photo on the front cover showing the bandmembers fishing off that short pier, they were "Casting out a line/But no one's biting" -- to quote Randall Bramblett's "God Was in the Water" from his first New West recording, 2001's No More Mr. Lucky. Anyway, Long Walk on a Short Pier begins with Chuck Leavell's slick R&B/dance track "Tear Down This Wall," recorded by the band at Capricorn's studio in Macon but punched up with a horn section recorded at Bramblett's old stamping ground of Sea Saint Studio in New Orleans, where he had recorded Light of the Night, his stellar -- and far less slick -- sophomore solo album released by Polydor in 1976. The horn section enlivens "My Love," another uptempo track written and sung by Leavell, but one begins to wonder why the keyboardist apparently stopped composing instrumental music for Sea Level to focus on clubby R&B/pop/rock (the horns play with more authentic feeling on "Thirsty" and "Morning Light," a pair of Bramblett numbers co-written with guitarist Davis Causey).
Thankfully, Leavell does get some chances to display his old keyboard magic, and there are several instrumental numbers scattered about: bassist Lamar Williams' sprightly "Just a Touch" with very Allman Brothers-ish guitar harmonies; the brief, funky "A Two n' Two"; and guitarist Jimmy Nalls' steady-rolling closing track, "Twenty Miles from Nowhere." The latter introduces country and bluegrass elements into the mix -- but that shouldn't be surprising for Sea Level given some of the bandmembers' previous work as session musicians with a wide range of Capricorn artists, including Alex Taylor and Cowboy ("Twenty Miles from Nowhere" could have fit into the track listing of the 1975 Cowboy album Boyer & Talton without raising an eyebrow). Three tracks from Long Walk on a Short Pier -- "Tear Down This Wall," "Canine Man" (a badass Bramblett blues-rocker with hot guitar from Nalls), and "Twenty Miles from Nowhere" -- were deemed strong enough to include on the 1990 Polydor Best of Sea Level comp, and while "Tear Down This Wall" probably could have been traded out without anybody shedding a tear, the other two fit reasonably well into the best-of. But with this album finding Sea Level searching for a successful formula amidst market indifference to the band's strengths, the two-decade wait for Long Walk on a Short Pier's release ended with a decidedly uneven listen for the band's patient U.S. fans.