Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Gary Lucas [extended]

  • The Edge of Heaven [Indigo, 2002] **
  • Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons [Cuneiform, 2016] A-
  • The World of Captain Beefheart [KFW, 2017] A-
  • The Essential Gary Lucas [KFR, 2021] **

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Edge of Heaven [Indigo, 2002]
"mid-century Chinese pop" that sounds like John Fahey--when nobody's singing ("Please Allow Me to Look at You Again" [track 2], "Please Allow Me to Look at You Again" [track 13]) **

Gary Lucas' Fleischerei Featuring Sarah Stiles: Music From Max Fleischer Cartoons [Cuneiform, 2016]
The master guitarist's avant-garde playmates have included Stampfel, Pulnoc, Beefheart, the Beefheart repertory band Fast 'N' Bulbous, and bigger weirdos than that. So for him, this re-creation of pre-Code animator Max Fleischer's leggy sexpot-ingenue Betty Boop is a pop move. Lucas ups the musical ante, of course--while respecting the cinematic idiom, his Gibson acoustic and Sesame Street music director Joe Fiedler's trombone prod an active rhythm section as everyone adds more spritz and oomph than would have made sense in a moviehouse. Lucas also plays both a Queens-accented Popeye and a rough-and-gruff Barnacle Bill in the six-minute "Beware of Barnacle Bill" transcription that closes. But the star of the show is Broadway find Sarah Stiles, who adds weight, sass, and flesh-and-blood nuance to the cartoonish squeals of the great Mae Questel, who brought Betty to musical life nearly a century ago. A-

Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart [KFW, 2017]
Although avant-guitarist Lucas accompanied and eventually managed Don Van Vliet during his mercurial 1978-1982 second coming, to reimagine him with post-soul artiste Hendryx he leans on Beefheart's blues-besotted youth. Ten of these dozen selections are from 1972 or before, and the two from 1967's Safe as Milk you may not believe are Beefheart at all--the Delta-as-desert "Sure 'Nuff Yes I Do" and "I'm Glad," a doowop torch song the captain wasn't tender enough to nail himself. Gentle ain't exactly Hendryx's default mode either, but she knows how to fake it, then switches smoothly into the jagged "Smithsonian Institute Blues." On the whole, the album cants sensuous, Latinizing Beefheart's jagged groove--before climaxing with the nutso "Tropical Hot Dog Night," which remains as much fun as two flamingos in a fruit fight. A-

The Essential Gary Lucas [KFR, 2021]
Like most great guitarists, he can use a boost from great vocalists and great material, as the David Johansen feature and Chinese Dylan cover stand up and shout on this self-curated double CD ("One Man's Meat," "All Along the Watchtower") **