Blues aficionados have a rough time with Capt. Beefheart: he sings like Howlin' Wolf but the music flanking his vocals washes the good Captain's bizarre work in surrealism of the highest form. The lyrics, brilliantly anarchic ditties, don't help the kinship to trad roots either, but the entire package illustrates what's possible way out of the box when one starts from a highly informed base. Gary Lucas played guitar for Beefheart and, though his own mutations aren't quite so arresting, they're striking for their refusal to cleave to any fundamental homogeneity. More, as a sideman for such luminaries as Jeff Buckley, Joan Osbourne, Nick Cave, and others, the guy knows how to work his axe in just about any coloration.
This CD, though, may be a trifle curious to his former bosses as it lands pointedly in no distinct territory, and that's precisely its charm, as has been the case on at least one predecessor disc (Gods and Monsters). Lucas just digs music, period. The fourteen cuts here have a certain complexly mellifluous baseline—not lacking in rhythm or energy but nonetheless created with a laid-back frame of mind. The first outing, Fata Morgana, displays some very nice acoustic fingerpicking (refer to the 1997 Evangeline release to see what a killer picker he can be) underneath slightly distanced vocals, a blend of modern folk and progressive forms. The second tune, Follow, recesses even further, almost akin to Pink Floyd's early enamorment with back porch Okie croons.
Lucas' voice is nowhere nearly as tutored as his playing, though, so, in the title cut, Coming Clean, he steps up the instrumental amperage with a duet of sizzlingly psychedelic leads, yet the predominant chordwork is equally fascinating when attended by the listener. The band's a threesome but Lucas is generously tracked, fleshing out the cuts to full atmospheres. Many have tried this sort of showcase but, in most cases, they've failed to provide as satisfying a menu. Deke Leonard never achieved anything quite so righteous, despite many high points with Man, and Peter Hamill issued but one truly riveting quiltwork solo, then settled into interminably vacant angst.
Guy Kyser and Thin White Rope had much in common with Gods & Monsters, though much more metallically, as does Grant Lee Phillips, and Coming Clean is shot through with broad applications of Hendrix's most nebulous aspect astride more than few hints of The Legendary Pink Dots. What proves most perplexing, however, is how bafflingly well an omnipresent acoustic guitar never fails to nail down the bottom while maintaining a modest profile. The subtle brilliance of Lucas' compositional process proves to require a slow-ish orientation, but, once hooked, the listener is reeled in like a hypnotized trout, helpless but to dig ever more deeply into the mesmerizing atmospheres.
Not that the cat doesn't know how to push up the throttle: in a version of Springsteen's Ain't Got You, the band turns into a hurtling steam engine, carrying the song relentlessly forward with pulsingly demanding urgency. The other cover tune is a take on Bernard Herrmann's theme to the film Psycho, so it ain't exactly soporific either. The slightly demonic David Johansen (N.Y. Dolls, Buster Poindexter...and not a bad actor, either) cohabitates one cut with his inimitably throaty boisterousness, and several sit-ins float through the album, all lending various talents, but the G&M ensemble proves to be quite sufficient unto itself, concocting a release in which not a cut, nor even one minute, is less than engrossing...and that, I needn't tell you, is a rare thing.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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