Before he retired to become a sculptor, Don Van Vliet - better known as Captain Beefheart - was a musical alchemist who conjured some of the most extreme sounds to rock the world (literally and figuratively) from the mid-60s to the early 80s. A friend of the late Frank Zappa, the Captain pioneered a rough ‘n’ ready amalgamation of rock & roll, Delta blues, free jazz, and R&B. complete with a Dadaist and ecological-minded sensibility in his lyrics. While he sold comparatively few records, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band inspired a few generations of rockers and gained the respect and admiration of jazz musicians Ornette Coleman, Phillip Johnston and Anthony Braxton.
Most tribute albums are, by their very nature, mixed bags: depending on personal taste(s), some tracks will work better than others as a varied lot try to put their own spin on the Captain’s compositions. Mike Watt’s "Dirty Blue Gene" even sounds
amazingly like Beefheart - but where a lot of folks just go for the good Captain’s distinctively gravelly yelp (which was only a part of his vocal ability - he had something like a five-octave voice), Watt also captures his soul-on-wry qualities. A Warm Palindrome refigures "Orange Claw Hammer" - originally an acapella tune - as a deranged Delta blues done in Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic style. Brian McMahon’s "I Got Love On My Mind" is a sublimely pensive soul/folk ballad. The ‘band’ Dapper - featuring critic Byron Coley and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore - captures the quasi-anarchic daffiness of the Magic Band the most - imagine if Frank Lowe and Sunny Murray had joined the Yardbirds at their peak. Unfortunately, a few contributors substitute heavy-handed irreverence and avant-garde posturing (i.e., noise) for substance (Racebannon, Moy and Monotract) - but sometimes ya gotta take the bad w/ the good. Though a bit inconsistent, Neon Meate Dream
is highly recommended for fans of the most extreme aspects of Capt. B’s music. (If you thought CB’s Doc At The Radar Station
was a bit on the "mellow" side, then dive right in.)