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Discontinuous research on Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band since June 1994.

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The Music of Captain Beefheart
Song list:
Grow Fins
Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man
When It Blows Its Stacks
Sun Zoom Spark
Tropical Hot Dog Night
Bat Chain Puller
Ice Cream For Crow
China Pig
Lick My Decals Off Baby
Harry Irene
Big Eyed Beans From Venus

I've updated this review from its original version, since I made some errors and also because the album producer mailed me some new info.

This album is a collection of Beefheart covers performed in Sweden during 1995. I received my copy from Ultimate Audio Entertainment, who kindly sent me a free copy for review. This music was played during the travelling exhibition of Don Van Vliet's paintings.

Freddie Wadling - lead vocals
Morgan Ågren - drums
Jimmy Ågren - guitar
Denny Walley - guitar, vocals
Mats Öberg - keyboard, harmonica, vocals
Rolf Hedqvist - bass

The CD itself is very nicely packaged; the cover art (A photo of Freddie Wadling) is very subdued and the layout is nice. The sound is very good - only a few faint background noises gives any indication these are live performances.

The performances themselves vary in quality. All the songs are performed well, but some lack a certain spirit or just sound like copies. To give the band credit, it's pretty hard for a band to match the tightness of the TMR-era Magic Band or the dynamic range of Don Van Vliet, though Freddie Wadling does have a good "Howlin' Wolf" growl. They also managed to pick some very difficult songs.

"Ice cream for crow" is my favorite song on the album; it recaptures the frantic energy of the original song but isn't a simple duplicate. The ethereal steel guitar sounds Gary Lucas supplied in the original are replaced by a harsher, more electrified twang which adds to the jumpiness of the tune. The original tune seems to lack a certain power because of the change in the voice of Captain Beefheart by 1982. However, hearing this version helps to appreciate the new range of tones present in the 1982 recording. I came away liking both versions more.

"China pig" is interesting, because it is performed by Denny Walley, who was in the Magic Band for some time (late 70's). He adds a lot of color to the original guitar chops, and does a good job of singing it too. (I assume it is him singing.) The lyrics to this song are difficult to pull off in a way that feels "complete" due to the impromptu nature of its original recording, but he seems to succeed.

"Lick my decals off baby" is in my opinion the least successful track, but not due to any failure on the part of the band. The version of the Magic Band that played on the "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" album was frighteningly coordinated, and it would take a lot of work for any other band to become that synchronized in playing a set of songs together. The band also breaks into a drum solo during the song, which is really not something you expect to hear in a Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band song. It treats the repetitive music batterns as background, something to solo over, rather than the actual melody and whole of the song itself. The result is the musical framework is gone and the drawn-out tension from the original song is lost.

There's a lot of Zappa influence that seems to float around on this record; The "Tropical hot dog night" xylophone (keyboard) solo breaks into a common Ruth Underwood-style flourish near the end, and there are other spots in the guitar playing that are very reminiscent of that style; not surprising since Morgan Ågren and Mats Öberg apparently played on the Zappa's Universe album. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on how much you like Zappa.

In summary, it's a good album. Considering the band had only a week of practice time, they managed to pull off an excellent live performance of some difficult music. I would recommend it, especially if you came to listen to Beefheart through his involvement with Zappa. Ordering information is on the UAE page, along with other UAE CDs.

They also sent me a Jimmy Ågren CD - "Get this into your head". It's an interesting listen, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes this Beefheart cover album.

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