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Saturday, 10 October 2009

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band - 'The Mirror Man Sessions' (Buddha)

Here's a rare case when the CD reissue trumps the vinyl - Mirror Man was a record of leftover long jams from the pre-Strictly Personal sessions, a surprisingly uncommercial yet revelatory glimpse from '67 or so, though it came out in '71, if I have my timeline right. This CD sticks those tracks (maybe extending some of the first few tracks, though I'm not sure) and other, generally superior versions of songs that were re-recorded for Strictly, and in the process becomes one of the most essential Beefheart items, I think. 'Tarotplane' blends into '25th Century Quaker' which blends into 'Mirror Man' and it's hard to even notice where the seams are. These are exercises in horizontality, really the only time I can remember the Magic Band merging with the James Brown band, at least spiritually. Soul is actually present but it's as inside-out as you'd expect it to be. Somehow despite hearing these jams a million times I think they manage to surprise me, at least a little bit, every time. Whatever had infected Can and Neu! was clearly in the same smoke but the difference is all in the culture - Beefheart's band is all guts, worms and breath while the Germans have little funny tables next to their sofas. But furthermore, these long tracks are about motion - they move, slowly, like crisscrossing waves that rise and fall and gradually take you across to another island. The shorter songs are for the most part superior to the versions that ended up on Strictly Personal - for one reason, because they're so much more clear, though they are Krasnow as well. There's some great true distortion present on a few tracks - meaning the guitars actually break up because the amplifier/speaker can't handle the signal. The phasing stuff isn't here but it manages to sound weirder anyway. Because weird is not just prepackaged effects that everyone uses - it's in the songwriting, the performance, the expression. This disc is packed at 71 minutes and pretty satisfying, but it's also still a band in transition, on the verge of masterpiece.

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