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In 2006, it was announced that Virgin records would be re-releasing the 5 albums which Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band recorded for Virgin in the UK. I think in the U.S these records were released by Liberty or Capitol because there was a 'best of' a few years back called 'The Liberty and Capitol Years' with the tracks from these albums on it. Anyway, 'Blue Jeans And Moonbeams' is the second of the 5, and sounds great with its remastering job.
This album, along with its fellow earlier release from 1974, 'Unconditionally Guaranteed,' are seen as the runt of Beefheart's litter. Gone are the acid freakouts of 'Trout Mask Replica' and the primal blues of debut 'Safe As Milk' and instead we have a serious attempt at the mainstream.
I disagree with alot of the critical opinion, especially regards this album which I am very fond of. Most of the criticism seems to be based around the old chestnut of 'selling out'. I don't really think it was possible for someone like Captain Beefheart to sell out, even if he wanted to. He is a very odd person, ranging from the choice of his moniker [too rude to go into here!], to the way he would instruct his band members to perform their instruments.
On 'Trout Mask Replica' there are moments where 2 clarinets are blown simultaneously by the same person and..... just all kinds of weird stuff. He was also known to be something of a dictator towards his bands, which given his bizarre requests for sounds was perhaps a bit unfair.
By the time of this album things had reached a head. The Magic Band had fractured amid claims that royalties and fees were not being paid to the band. This is well covered in Mike Barnes liner notes to the C.D, and this led to the formation of a new band as is heard on 'Blue Jeans And Moonbeams'.
This band was re-named 'The Tragic Band' by fans of the old Magic Band's frenetic blues improvisations. Taken on its own merits though, the music here is very 'listener friendly' and could present a better way in to people unfamiliar with Beefheart's music.
'Party Of Special Things To Do' is the opening track and begins with the great line " The Camel wore a Nightie.....in the party of special things to do!". This doesn't really differ in sound much from the previous year's 'Clearspot' album, although the playing is smoother than in the past. It's still blues with a surreal edge.
Next up is a superb cover of JJ Cale's 'Same Old Blues', with some excellent slide guitar work from Dean Smith who provides the guitar playing on most of the album. Beefheart's voice is in particularly fine form here, he has one of the greatest white blues voices ever.
Track 3 is my favourite, 'Observatory Crest'. This is a Beefheart classic, co-written with Bass player Ira Ingber, it is a slow paced romantic ballad, not the sort of thing you expect from Beefheart at all, but excellent despite that. This song has been covered by Mercury Rev and several modern day rock stars such as Jack White and Graham Coxon have extolled its virtues. If there's a lost masterpiece here, this is it.
After an awesome start to the album 'Pompadour Swamp' is a bit aimless sounding, though no worse than alot of the material on the more highly regarded 'Spotlight Kid' album. Ok, but nothing amazing.
Track 5, 'Captain's Holiday' begins a series of 3 tracks which are quite poor really and perhaps are where the album gets some of its bad press from. This instumental is not even written by Beefheart and stretches out way past the 5 minute mark, quite dull really. Having said that, if you don't like it, it is still possible to have it on in the background unlike some of the monster freakouts on 'Trout Mask Replica' which demand attention or it has to be switched off.
'Rock n Roll's Evil Doll' is better, but still ultimately quite forgettable, at least there's some trademark Beefheart verbal imagery here.
'Further Than We've Gone' is taking the Beefheart does a ballad thing too far, although the guitar solo from Dean Smith I thought was very impressive. Another overcooked, and lengthy piece.
'Twist Ah Luck' brings things brilliantly back into line, with some more great slide playing and Harmonica playing from the Captain himself. The band really rocks on this, and it sounds like they've been playing together for years. One I listen to alot.
The final track 'Blue Jeans And Moonbeams' is another well written ballad, though the synthesizer sound on it does date it badly. Once again the Captain serenades the listener with his bizarre ideas of romantic imagery.
So what is the overall verdict here?. I love Captain Beefheart, and went to see the Magic Band live in 2005 which is still one of the best gigs I've seen. Although the Captain is no longer involved in music, his various band's of talented musicians still occasionally tour his music around venues. This album is about as different as you can get from 'Trout Mask Replica' and is almost easy listening. I have personally always found 'Trout Mask Replica' a very difficult listen, although I respect the artistic merits on display, 'Moonlight On Vermont' is the only track I regularly listen to off that album. My favourite Beefheart album is probably 'Clearspot' and I also love 'Shiny Beast', 'Safe As Milk' and 'Doc At The Radar Station'. But 'Blue Jeans And Moonbeams' is certainly one I listen to quite a bit on the Ipod.
If you are new to Beefheart, I would advise getting 'Safe As Milk' as the first purchase as this shows the Delta Blues influences which were always there in his music. But this album does sound very '70s' and you should be aware of that before buying. It might have provided the background to a cocktail party in the mid 70s which sounds like a criticism but its not really, a very relaxed vibe.
Ignore the rampant criticism and hear this for yourself. Can be bought for around £5 on Amazon/Play, but these remasters look like they are slipping out of print so grab 'em!.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Party Of Special Things To Do
2 Same Old Blues
3 Observatory Crest
4 Pompadour Swamp
5 Captain's Holiday
6 Rock 'N' Roll's Evil Doll
7 Further Than We've Gone
8 Twist Ah Luck
9 Blue Jeans And Moonbeams