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Captain Beefheart - Safe As Milk CD (album) cover


Captain Beefheart



3.91 | 168 ratings

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3 stars Safe As Milk posits Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band as the late 60s answer to the early 60s Animals or Rolling Stones. It's an extremely energetic, well played R&B album with a good mix of slow, fast, loud, and quiet numbers, and a healthy helping of the psychedelic vibe that was in vogue at the time. It's very accessible - with a bit more promotional push it probably could have been a hit record - yet it's still unpredictable and very rough around the edges (though purposely so).

Guitarists Alex Snouffer (aka Alex St Clair) and Doug Moon come close to upstaging Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) himself - much like Brian Jones' work on the early Stones records, they have an uncannily firm grasp of the blues, and play their battery of licks and riffs with effortless grace. Beefheart rises to the challenge, belting out his vocals with the authority of a 30 year blues veteran - the ghost of Howlin' Wolf coming through a young white guy out of the California desert. Drummer John French (aka Drumbo) gives us the first taste of his syncopated whomp-whom-bash drumming style, adopting a melodic approach to drumming instead of purely keeping time or playing ordinary 4/4 beat patterns.

There are three types of songs here: variations on classic blues tunes, soulful R&B styled pop songs, and "the weird stuff".

Classic Blues Tunes: "Sure Nuff and Yes I Do", "Plastic Factory", "Grown So Ugly"

Soulful R&B Tunes: "Zig Zag Wanderer", "Call on Me", "I'm Glad", "Yellow Brick Road", "Where There's Woman"

"The Weird Stuff": "Dropout Boogie", "Electricity", "Abba Zaba", "Autumn's Child"

As Beefheart fans know, it was to be "The Weird Stuff" that would guide the majority of Beefheart's subsequent work, but attentive listeners will discover that none of these three avenues ever fully went away.

Unlike a lot of fans, I've never been in love with this album as a whole; it's about as solid a debut album as any underground garage band could ask for, but in the end that's not enough to garner favorable comparison to the artistic heights Beefheart would soon reach. And as I hinted at earlier, this version of the band was as much Alex Snouffer's band as it was Don Van Vliet's band - it's only when Van Vliet would finally assert his dictatorial dominance, with Snouffer out of the way and a pair of younger guitarists in his place, that things would truly get far out.

P.S. It's often commented upon that the legendary Ry Cooder played on this album. This is true, but his actual involvement with the band was minimal at best; Snouffer and Moon deserve the lions' share of the credit as far as I'm concerned.

HolyMoly | 3/5 |


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