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Captain Beefheart - Bat Chain Puller CD (album) cover

BAT CHAIN PULLER

Captain Beefheart

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.14 | 10 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

HolyMoly
Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl and Canterbury Teams
4 stars This is it, the legendary unreleased 1976 album, and the missing link between the "Tragic Band" era of the mid seventies (Unconditionally Guaranteed, Bluejeans and Moonbeams) and the late 70s creative renaissance on Virgin (Shiny Beast, Doc at the Radar Station, Ice Cream for Crow). Though most of these songs were eventually re-recorded with a new band and released on the latter three albums, this impressive album presents them in their original, arguably definitive, form. Although this elusive album has been bootlegged in the past, this official release by the Zappa Family Trust (via their Vaulternative label) is the first time this material has ever been presented in proper form, with all the care to sonic detail and overall presentation that the ZFT are known for.

Some history: suffering from artistic dead ends and financial poverty, Beefheart found temporary work touring with Frank Zappa on the 1975 tour documented on his "Bongo Fury" album. After the tour, Zappa helped Beefheart assemble a new band and record a new album for his DiscReet label. The album was completed, and everyone involved thought it could be Beefheart's breakthrough album. At that point, Zappa became ensnared in a legal battle with his manager, Herb Cohen, which blocked Zappa from use of the tapes until 1982, at which time Beefheart had long since moved on and recorded the three final albums he is known for, making much of the material seem superfluous at the time. But the fans never forgot about it, and the mysterious album became a Holy Grail of sorts for Beefheart fans.

How does this album compare to the three Virgin albums? Well, for one thing, this one has John French on it. I cannot stress enough how integral French was to the realization of Beefheart's musical ideas. Finally given proper credit here as "musical director", French's role in the band was basically to take Beefheart's wild artistic impulses and free-association and put them in musical notation for the band to learn, as he did for the Trout Mask Replica band back in 1969. Although French was still present to a lesser degree on the Virgin albums, in this particular Magic Band he is front and center, playing all the drums in his unique style, and even playing a good amount of guitar (for stuff he didn't have time to teach to the band's guitarists). The other huge difference is in the presence of guitarist Denny Walley. Walley was a member of Zappa's Bongo Fury band, and is a very skilled slide player who really adds a lot of personality to these versions. Although he was central to bringing this material to fruition, he never appeared on any other Beefheart albums, and thus his contributions have been forgotten with time.... until now. [Note: a really neat improvised blues jam between Walley and Beefheart, "Hobo-Ism", is included as a bonus track, offering something rare and exciting for the fanatics to fetish over].

Don Van Vliet himself (Captain Beefheart) is probably in better voice on this album than just about any other album he put out. His trademark bluesy growls make my hair stand on end, and his spoken poetry (lots of it on this album, with and without accompaniment) is incredibly surreal and touching. "Apes-Ma", for example, is almost unbearably sad.

Simply put, if you're a Beefheart fan, your collection is not complete without this album, even if you already have Shiny Beast through Ice Cream for Crow. It's a very different band playing the material, and in some cases I think these versions are far superior. (Discographical note: the only songs on this album which were not re-recorded for the following three Virgin albums are "Odd Jobs" and "Seam Crooked Sam". These two songs are as good as anything else here, too).

HolyMoly | 4/5 |

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