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Gary Lucas
The Essential Sean Kitching , February 5th, 2021 08:47

A new compilation on Knitting Factory Records proves Lucas was always more than just a capable sideman to the likes of Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley, finds Sean Kitching

Although he’s principally known for his work with Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley, and to a lesser extent for his own psychedelic blues band, Gods And Monsters, the vast range of styles that Gary Lucas is fluent in, and the extent of the list of his hugely talented collaborators, finds full expression on this two-CD, 36-track anthology.

Gods And Monsters, who saw Jeff Buckley, the Modern Lovers’ Jerry Harrison and Ernie Brooks, Television and Waitresses drummer, Billy Ficca, and Richard Barone of The Bongos pass through their ranks at one time or another, take up the entirety of the first disc. ‘Fata Morgana’ (another term for optical illusion, or mirage, which also references the mythical sorceress Morgan le Fay), is a powerful opening salvo. Lucas’s guitar is so lithe and fleet of foot as to almost overtake itself, close to evading gravity entirely, with Ficca and Brooks aiding and abetting the flight with a wonderfully exuberant rhythm section. ‘Evangeline’, with LaMonte Young, Swans and Rhys Chatham associate, Jonathan Kane, behind the kit, is slower paced but equally wonderful, with Lucas’ sustained notes recalling in places, the single-minded intensity of Snakefinger’s guitar playing. Elsewhere, ex-New York Doll, David Johansen lends his unmistakable rasp to ‘One Man’s Meat’.

The wonderful Mary Margaret O’Hara sings on side highlight ‘Poison Tree’, the Woodentops’ Rolo McGinty appears on ‘Skin The Rabbit’ and ‘Whip Named Lash’, and of course, Jeff Buckley does his thing on ‘Grace’. Disc one ends with ‘King Strong’, a guitar instrumental with Tackhead’s Keith LeBlanc on drums. As is to be expected of such a career retrospective, not all of the material is as strong as the high points, but thankfully they’re in plentiful supply.

Anyone coming to this collection only knowing Lucas’ work with Captain Beefheart might initially be thrown by the less avant garde nature of some of these tracks. Stick with it, however, and there are plenty of curveballs to be discovered, especially on disc two of the collection.

Chinese vocalist and erhu virtuoso, Feifei Yang, adds an enigmatic lustre to ‘All Along The Watchtower’. Nona Hendryx, of the ‘Lady Marmalade’ trio Labelle, brings her unmistakable soul diva vibe to Beefheart classic, ‘Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles’. Live versions of Beefheart tracks ‘Flavour Budd Living’ (the first track Lucas recorded for the Captain, and one which set up his future career) and the ludicrously complex, ‘Evening Bell’, offer a glimpse into the part of Lucas’ life where he also had the unenviable, but no doubt fascinating, task of being Don Van Vliet’s manager. The gorgeous ‘Two Roads’ experiments with traditional Hungarian music. Sublime acoustic instrumentals ‘Will ‘O The Wisp’ and ‘Dream Of A Russian Princess’ venture confidently into John Fahey territory. ‘Rishte’ showcases the ample vocal talents of London-based Indian singer, Najma Akhtar, with Lucas sounding a little like Jimmy Page (who Akhtar previously collaborated with) in acoustic mode, whilst ‘Life Kills’ features Suicide’s Alan Vega. Taken as a whole, The Essential Gary Lucas offers substantial and wildly diverse evidence for the case of Gary Lucas being considerably more than a sideman to the likes of Beefheart and Buckley.