Monday, November 24, 2008

Ex Captain Beefheart Members Recapture The Magic On 'City Of Refuge'

City Of Refuge
Proper Records

Review by Nightwatcher

As drummer and musical director of Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band, John "Drumbo" French was responsible for contributing heavily to Don Van Vliet's unique musical vision, mixing blues rock with a revolutionary experimental bent, characterized by their odd mixtures of shifting time signatures and by their surreal lyrics, the combination of which were groundbreaking back in the mid 60's, as evidenced on the classic albums, 1967's 'Safe As Milk,' 1969's 'Trout Mask Replica,' (Named number 58 on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time") and 1970's' Lick My Decals Off, Baby'. More albums ensued, but this trio of recordings became later hugely influential to not only musical free thinkers, but also to the early punk movement, as bands such as The Clash, Johnny Lydon of The Sex Pistols, and even later on guitarist John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers all cited Beefheart as a prominent influence.

French left with the rest of the Magic Band in 1973, forming Mallard, featuring ex Magic Band members as well as ex Free, future Who keyboardist Rabbit Bundrick, who recorded 2 albums before splitting up in 1976. In 2003, The Magic Band reformed without Van Vliet for 2 albums and accompanying tour before concluding their activities in 2006.

Now Drumbo is back with a brand new album, 'City Of Refuge,' an uncompromising offering which captures the spirit of the original Beefheart band, updated for modern times. Slightly off kilter, strangely accessible, yet musically challenging, this is not an album for the musically weak, especially ones used to the pablum force fed to them by the corporate mainstream music labels. Featuring original Magic Band alumni guitarist Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad), named #62 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, bassist Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) alongside guitarist Ella Guru (Greg Davidson) and keyboardist John Thomas (no aka), this is a trip back to when music was made with an artistic, rather than commercial eye. Mixing a jazz like virtuosity with a bluesy rock underpinning, complimented by French's gravelly, almost Howling Wolf-ish vocals, this is a musical undertaking sure to please the musically adventurous. The 12 tracks contained here showcase all the members' talents and range admirably. Whether it's the opening blast of idiosyncrasy "Bogeyman", the stately title track, which blends beautiful, classical leaning keyboards amidst a driving jazz rock thrust, or the funky blues of "Get So Mean," all involved fly through with flying colors, attesting to the vast musical pedigree involved in the recording.

The late legendary UK DJ John Peel once stated, "If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of popular music, it's Beefheart", and based on the evidence laid down here, there's still plenty of that genius left. I'm sure Peel would approve, and if you like music which is out of the norm, but still pleasing to the ear, you'll find much to appreciate here. 9/10

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