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CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & THE MAGIC BAND Remastered & unreleased editions
EMI (2006)

These 6 Captain Beefheart re-issues spanning his 1974 - 1982 Virgin years, start with a brace of his most commercial efforts, the underrated 'Unconditionally Guaranteed' and the frankly disappointing 'Bluejeans & Moonbeams', before moving on to the surprisingly good and previously unreleased 'Live In London - Drury Lane 74'.

Thereafter, the Captain's took a successful retro stylistic leap with the Zappa inspired and well produced but stylistically more obdurate 'Shiny Beast/Bat Chain Puller'. But by the time of 1980's 'Doc at the Radar Station' Beefheart seemed to be raking over old coals by harking back to his 'Trout Mask Replica' style of delirious vocals and fragmented rhythms, while 'Ice Cream For Crow' was a patchy finale.

Captain Beefheart

Beefheart and Zappa musical contemporary Jimmy Carl Black once commented that while 'Zappa was avant garde, Beefheart was plain weird', yet 39 years on from the groundbreaking 'Safe As Milk' debut album, the Beefheart appeal is enduring enough to be the subject of this fine reissue programme.

With his niche was already established, Captain Beefheart went on to record the remarkable 'Trout Mask Replica' double album which became both an opus and an albatross by which to judge his future career.

For 5 years Beefheart held court in a musical Dadaist landscape where his fractured rhythms, stop-start time signatures, mangled guitar lines and general musical dissonance collided with new interpretations of what might loosely be termed delta blues and free jazz. Topping this musical neo primitive approach was the captain's uncompromising guttural vocal growl.

So what are we to make of the 1974 unashamedly MOR content of Unconditionally Guaranteed (CDVR 2015), coming from an artist who had successfully transformed Son House's rootsy blues and Ornette Coleman free jazz noodlings to his own peculiar ends?

The answer lies in the previously released 1972 Clear Spot album which brought clarity and accessible structure to Beefhearts lyrical genius. So while 'Unconditional Guaranteed' alienated many fans with its radical stylistic departure, the unashamed love songs, catchy hooks and funky motifs had already become part of his music. Perhaps the good captain should have been allowed the same mellowing out as many of his contemporaries.

Taken on its musical merits alone, there is much to admire here from the funky opening of 'Upon The My Oh My', to the slide led country rock style of 'New Electric Ride' and the punchy 'Full Moon Hot Sun'. There is a 50's retro feel to the bluesy metaphors of 'Sugar Bowl' and a real urgency to the Art Trip driven 'I Got Love on My Mind'. Had this album been recorded by anyone other than Beefheart it would have been given an easier critical ride. 32 years on from its original release this reissue has much to recommend it, and is best represented by the hypnotic beautiful love song 'This is The Day'. ***

The poorly reviewed Bluejeans & Moonbeams (CDVR2023) actually opens with a flourish as the funky 'The Party for Particular Things to Do', and JJ Cale's 'Same Old Blues' both work well, while wistful 'Observatory Crest' and the soulful, piano/guitar progression of 'Further Than We've Gone' is an impressive extension of Beehearts new found ballad style.

The nadir for long time fans however, was the Little Feat style instrumental, 'Captain's Holiday', as their hero is almost absent except for some abrasive harp playing. The closing title track might even have been a hit for someone other than Beefheart but fans expected something more challenging. **

Captain Beefheart

The Live In London - Drury Lane 74 (CDVR2238) is the real surprise here. Previously unreleased, the 'Unconditionally Guaranteed' tour was a triumph over adversity. Despite having to routine a whole new Magic Band, the jammed out intro of 'Full Moon Hot Sun' and the crazed jazzy syncopation of 'Sweet Georgia Brown' suggests that the band was road drilled quickly enough to impressively breathe fresh life into classic oldies such as the timeless 'Mirror Man' and 'Abba Zaba'. While the new Magic Band eschewed the intricacies of their predecessors, they relish the low down bluesy vein of 'Keep On Rubbin' (Mighty Crazy') on which the crowd helps build up the groove as the Captain engages in an extended bluesy duet.

'This is The Day' features some delicate guitar lines from Dean Smith and the accompanying cool keyboard and flute interplay carves out a beautifully worked love song over which Beefheart delivers a heartfelt ode to his wife. Particular mention should be made of the incredible horn player Del Simmons whose glass shattering single note finale is a worthy climax to a great gig. ****

Captain Beefheart

1978's Shiny Beast Bat Chain Puller (CDVR2149) seemed a return to form. Supposedly overseen by Zappa until they fell out, the album was to suffer a number of problems from bootlegging to delayed released dates and ultimately legal challenges over label ownership.

Beefheart opens with an effective close to the mike vocal on 'The Floppy Boot Stomp' though the bv's come as a surprise. The following Latino feel of 'Tropical Hot Dog Night' beautifully fuses a funky metre with an enchanting verse. The Bruce Fowler/Art Tripp horn and marimba fuelled 'Ice Rose' could have come from a Zappa project while the soft shuffle of 'Harry Irene' is a successful slice of musical minimalism with clever lyrics.

The Captain adds a tortured vocal wail to the mangled blues of 'You Know You're a Man' while the title track is propelled by a train time rhythm that evokes feelings of claustrophobic paranoia. Remastered and with fine liner notes by Mike Barnes (as on all the releases), 'Bat Chain Puller' is an excellent album and suggest a welcome musical progression within his early idiosyncratic idiom. ****

The following Doc at the Radar Station (CDVR2172) on the other hand still sounds like a belated attempt to regain old ground. Although there is much to recommend it, most notably the uncompromising 'Run Paint Run', and the startling poetic imagery of 'Sue Egypt', much of the material sounds a little contrived and certainly lacks early career spontaneity. The exceptions are the wounded lyrics of 'Ashtray Heart' which features Beefheart's most austere vocals for years, and the hard hitting 'Best Batch Yet'. A good album but not as good as what has gone immediately before let alone in his early career. ***

As Beefheart watcher Lou Statton noted back in 1983, 'He (Beefheart) is an artist because his music won't allow his body to sit still'. And as the focus of his muse shifted from music to art, the musical highs diminished.

The final 'Ice Cream For Crow' was a patchy mishmash of old and new. The title track is simply superb and was actually released as a single with accompanying video. The colourful lyrical imagery is ignited by the mesmerising twin slide guitar lines of Jeff Morris Tepper and Gary Lucas. For the rest there's a frantic stab at distorted r&b on 'The Past Sure is Tense' while 'Hey Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat' recycles a few images from 'Trout Mask' era. 'Ice Cream For Crow' is like the curates egg, good in parts, but ultimately feels like a slightly unsatisfying end to a mercurial musical career. **

Review by Pete Feenstra

***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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