John French (aka Drumbo), former drummer of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, has released a reunion effort of sorts, as on it appears former Magic Band members including Bill Harkleroad (aka Zoot Horn Rollo) on guitar, Mark Boston (aka Rockette Morton) on bass and Greg Davidson (aka Ella Guru) on guitar. The Captain himself does not appear. French contributes drums, saxophone and lead vocals. If you have listened to the Magic Band before you will have an understanding of what this music is all about. I would describe it as an exploration in bluesy, psychedelic boogie rock with progressive and jazzy moments of clarity. The vocals of French possess a bluesy, raspy quality, that you may have to get used to, but really suit the music. The album is dedicated to the memory John Peel, famous D.J. for the BBC, who died in 2004. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band had a profound influence on popular music. As Peel once said, "If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of popular music, its Beefheart…I heard echoes of his music in some of the records I listened to last week and I'll hear more echoes in records that I listen to this week."
The beginnings of this reunion took shape in 2004 when the band performed in Glastonbury. I suppose that started the creative juices flowing and this latest record is the result.
The music carries a wide range of tempos and moods. From short bursts of electric guitar, odd-metered drum fills and stabbing saxophone runs, there is a lot here for the listener to absorb. This is complicated stuff, with plenty of jazzy motifs, bluesy interludes and instrumental flourishes that demonstrate the superb musicianship of all involved.
Perhaps my favorite tune thus far is "City of Refuge" with it's complicated drum fills in counterpoint to the angular guitar attack of Harkleroad. It may seem disharmonious at first but there is real beauty amidst the musical chaos. Another strong effort is "Abandon" with its bluesy, soulful vocal and catchy lead and rhythm guitar. It has that infectious southern rock feel that this band does so well. The band slows down the tempo somewhat with "To the Loft of Ravenscroft" a nice piece of instrumental jazz rock featuring stellar saxophone and fine bass playing.
This is a fine effort from some very good musicians who are clearly enjoying playing together again after so many years. This should be a safe recommendation for fans of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, jazz/blues inflected rock and southern boogie rock.
2) Bus Ticket Outta Town
3) Blood on a Porcupine Quill
4) City of Refuge
6) Get so Mean
7) Maybe That'll Teach Ya
8) To the Loft of Ravenscroft
9) The Shirt off My Back
10) Wicked Witch of War
11) Whose Side Ya On
12) The Withered Hand of Time