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Rock - Released June 1, 1999 | Buddha Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2006 | Virgin Catalogue

Distinctions The Unusual Suspects
Generally acclaimed as the strongest album of his comeback, and by some as his best since Trout Mask Replica, Doc at the Radar Station had a tough, lean sound owing partly to the virtuosic new version of the Magic Band (featuring future Pixies sideman Eric Drew Feldman, New York downtown-scene guitarist Gary Lucas, and a returning John "Drumbo" French, among others) and partly to the clear, stripped-down production, which augmented the Captain's basic dual-guitar interplay and jumpy rhythms with extra percussion instruments and touches of Shiny Beast's synths and trombones. Many of the songs on Doc either reworked or fully developed unused material composed around the time of the creatively fertile Trout Mask sessions, which adds to the spirited performances. Even if the Captain's voice isn't quite what it once was, Doc at the Radar Station is an excellent, focused consolidation of Beefheart's past and then-present. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Rock - Released May 23, 2014 | Legacy Recordings

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Blues - Released November 17, 2014 | Rhino - Warner Records

Hi-Res Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
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Blues - Released November 17, 2014 | Rhino - Warner Records

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Reissue
Finally! As of 2014, Lick My Decals Off, Baby, The Spotlight Kid, and Clear Spot had needed a proper remastering treatment for quite some time when Rhino came to the rescue, remastering all three in one fell swoop as Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972. As if that weren't enough for fans, they added an entire bonus disc of outtakes and alternates as well. The albums themselves are fairly different from each other. Lick My Decals followed directly after Trout Mask Replica and is the closest there is to Trout Mask's sonic assault. On the other side, Clear Spot's horn charts, backup singers, and Ted Templeman production were probably catchy enough for actual radio success (well, maybe in a better world). The Spotlight Kid is pitched somewhere in between. However, it's all prime Beefheart. The band is always in sync, Don's voice sounds great (as does his harmonica playing), and it's all got that unique rhythmic sense. The bonus material doesn't disappoint either. It's all from the Clear Spot and Spotlight Kid sessions and sounds fantastic. The alternates of songs that were on the albums are interesting but not revelatory, but hearing these early versions of songs that appeared on later albums is pretty fascinating. This version of "Harry Irene" predates both the Shiny Beast version and the Bat Chain Puller version. The two takes of "Dirty Blue Gene" are quite interesting as well, not just because they're significantly different than the version that ended up on Doc at the Radar Station but also because they're significantly different from each other (the third take is quite a bit more aggressive, with a really cool guitar tone at the end). "Pompadour Swamp" is a great guitar instrumental that ended up as "Suction Prints." It's hard to believe some of these cuts were left off originally, but albums were shorter back in the day. They make this set pretty close to essential for longtime fans (as if the fantastic sound weren't enough). © Sean Westergaard /TiVo
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Rock - Released June 16, 1969 | Zappa Records

Hi-Res Booklet
As soon as that UFO cover (a man with a trout's head wearing a woolen waistcoat on a fluorescent pink background) comes into focus, we understand that the ground is mined and that the trip is bound to be singular; or even much more... The first notes of Trout Mask Replica resound and the devil himself has taken possession of the protagonists' bodies embarked in a swerve of crazy blues strangely resembling free jazz, contemporary music and voodoo-optional garage rock. Produced by another iconoclast—Frank Zappa—and released in June 1969, this third album of Don Van Vliet alias Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band links real blues, fake blues, atonal improvisations, sound experimentations, funny or crazy monologues, the time of an infinite, uncontrollable and uncontrolled farandole. The whole is carried by Beefheart's voice, like a Howlin' Wolf on acid that would go on to strongly influence Tom Waits. To produce such a sonic delirium, our rock 'n' roll Salvador Dali locked himself up in a house in the San Bernardo Valley with his close friends and family, all of them wearing improbable pseudonyms: guitarist Bill "Zoot Horn Rollo" Harkleroad, bassist Mark "Rockette Morton" Boston, John "Drumbo" French, drummer Jeff "Antennae Jimmy Semens" Cotton and clarinetist Victor "The Mascara Snake" Hayden. As John Peel, the influential British DJ, would say, "If there is a single thing in the history of popular music that can be described as a work of art, in the sense understood by those who work in other fields of art, Trout Mask Replica is probably that work." © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Blues - Released January 17, 2011 | Rhino - Warner Records

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1979 | Virgin Records

So titled because the original album, simply titled Bat Chain Puller, had to be ditched and rerecorded after a legal tuzzle involving Frank Zappa's manager, Shiny Beast turned out to be manna from heaven for those feeling Beefheart had lost his way on his two Mercury albums. Then again, what else could be assumed with a song titled "Tropical Hot Dog Night" that sounds like what happened when Beefheart encountered Miami disco and decided to make something of it? When it comes to singing, though, he's still the atypical growler, snarler and more of lore, conjuring up more wonderfully odd lyrical stories than can easily be measured, while the album as a whole gets steadily more and more bent. "You Know You're a Man" is at once straightforward and incredibly weird when it comes to love and gender, while other standouts include "Bat Chain Puller," a steady chugger that feels like a goofy death march, and the nervy freak of "Owed T'Alex." As for the Magic Band in general, keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman, guitarists Jeff Tepper and Richard Redus and drummer Robert Williams lay down the business with appropriately gone aplomb, as a listen to "Suction Prints" will demonstrate. © Ned Raggett /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2006 | Virgin Catalogue

With yet one final Magic Band lineup in place, featuring Richard Snyder on bass and Cliff Martinez on drums alongside returning vets Jeff Moris Tepper and Gary Lucas, Beefheart put the final touch on his recording career to date with Ice Cream for Crow. It's a last entertaining blast of wigginess from one of the few truly independent artists in late 20th century pop music, with humor, skill, and style all still intact (as even the song titles like "Semi-Multicoloured Caucasian" and "Cardboard Cutout Sundown" show). With the Magic Band turning out more choppy rhythms, unexpected guitar lines, and outré arrangements, Captain Beefheart lets everything run wild as always, with successful results. Sometimes he sounds less like the blues shouter of lore and more of a spoken word artist with an attitude, thus the stuttering flow of "The Host the Ghost the Most Holy." "Hey Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat" is even more entertainingly outrageous, Beefheart's addictive if near impenetrable ramble about tobacco juice and straw hats and more backed by an insanely great arrangement. Magic Band members each get chances to shine one way or another -- "Evening Bell" in particular demonstrates why Lucas went on to later solo renown, a complex, suddenly shifting solo instrumental that sits somewhere between background music and head-scratching "how did he do that?" intrigue. © Ned Raggett /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1974 | Virgin Records

About the best one can say about 1974's Bluejeans & Moonbeams is that it's not as bad as his other release of the year, Unconditionally Guaranteed. In fact, there are two tracks, the pretty reverie "Observatory Crest" and the stomping blues-rocker "Party of Special Things to Do," that are actually quite good. The rest of the album, however, is fairly dire. Recorded with anonymous studio musicians who are clearly out of their league and glossed to a soul-less polish by producer Andy DiMartino, Bluejeans & Moonbeams never catches fire even at its best, and its worst tracks -- those would be "Pompadour Swamp" and the utterly wretched proto-disco "Captain's Holiday" -- are the worst things that have ever borne the Captain Beefheart name. Captain Beefheart would eventually return with the revitalized Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) in 1978, but Bluejeans & Moonbeams sounds like a tired and cynical make-work project. © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Blues - Released April 3, 1992 | Rhino - Warner Records

Produced by Captain Beefheart himself, Lick My Decals Off, Baby was a further refining and exploration of the musical ideas posited on Trout Mask Replica. As such, the imaginative fervor of Trout Mask is toned down somewhat, but in its place is an increased self-assurance; the tone of Decals is also a bit darker, examining environmental issues in some songs rather than simply concentrating on surreal wordplay. Whatever the differences, the jagged, complex rhythms and guitar interplay continue to amaze. Those wanting to dig deeper after the essential Trout Mask Replica are advised to begin doing so here. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 17, 2011 | Rhino - Warner Records

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Pop/Rock - Released June 22, 1999 | Revenant

An unprecedented project in the rock field: a five-CD box set of unreleased material by a cult artist that never had anything close to a chart hit. Of course Captain Beefheart is the ultimate cult artist, and one with a following so rabid (if limited) that the compilation has a wider audience than many would anticipate. Despite the impressive chronological span and variety of demos, live performances, backing tracks, and outtakes, be cautioned that this is not a best-of or ad hoc career overview. A good deal of the tracks (some of which have long been available on bootleg) are of slightly substandard or low fidelity, and Beefheart's most significant work is ultimately contained on his numerous official releases. However, this is an important addition to his catalog, and one that many of his fanatics will find essential, though it won't do much to convert the casual fan due to the difficult nature of much of the material. Disc one, with live cuts and demos from 1966-67 that include a few songs recorded on Safe as Milk, is certainly the most interesting and accessible of the quintet. Disc two is more shambling and experimental, with its assortment of 1968 live performances. Disc three is for the hardcore: home-recorded (though in okay fidelity) run-throughs of Trout Mask Replica material from 1969, without vocals. Disc four is for the harder core: 12 more minutes of Trout Mask home sessions, plus enhanced-CD live performance footage from 1968-73. CD five is an interesting, erratic assortment of live, radio, demo, and work tape material from 1969-82, fidelity varying from good to poor. The liner notes are exceptionally detailed, with many first-hand quotes by band members and much historical narrative by frequent Magic Band drummer John French. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1974 | Virgin Records

The most reviled album of Captain Beefheart's entire career, 1974's ironically titled Unconditionally Guaranteed unfortunately largely deserves its negative reputation. Recorded in the U.K. as the first album of Captain Beefheart's contract with Virgin Records, it's also the last album that features any members of the Trout Mask Replica-era band, notably guitarists Zoot Horn Rollo and Alex St. Clair, plus former Mothers of Invention percussionist Art Tripp. Rather like Van Morrison's later album, A Period of Transition, Unconditionally Guaranteed is clearly a deliberate attempt by the Captain to restrain his more peculiar tendencies in search of a wider audience. As might be expected, the wider audience didn't show up, and his longtime fans were put off by the album's more commercial facets. It's not an entirely useless album, as the tunes do have some of the blues-rock punch that's at the root of Beefheart's work, and the lyrics, mostly declarations of love for his wife, Jan Van Vliet, who receives co-writing credit with producer Andy DiMartino on all ten tracks, seem heartfelt enough. The problem is that DiMartino's production and arrangements are flaccid and dull, and Beefheart (purposely) sings as if he's half asleep throughout. Even Captain Beefheart himself disowns this record. © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Rock - Released October 1, 1984 | A&M

Before gaining a cult with his avant-garde excursions in the late '60s, Captain Beefheart wielded a much more traditional sort of blues-rock. That's not to say that these two obscure mid-'60s A&M singles (packaged together on this five-song EP, which adds a previously unreleased track from the same era) aren't well worth hearing. The Captain's Howlin' Wolf-like growl led a tough outfit that ranked among the best early American blues-rock groups, and among the few that could reasonably emulate the Rolling Stones' toughness. Produced, unbelievably enough, by future Bread leader David Gates, this reissue includes their regional hit cover of Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy." The best track, though, is "Moonchild," their shameless derivation of Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning." Featuring wailing harmonica, stomping riffs and adventurous, quasi-psychedelic production, it was actually written by Gates himself. To think that the same man was also responsible for "If" and "Baby I'm A-Want You" blows the mind. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Pop/Rock - Released June 1, 1999 | Buddha Records

The Mirror Man Sessions features the complete remastered contents of Mirror Man, albeit in a resequenced running order, and fills out the rest of the CD with a number of bonus tracks taken from additional recordings, both finished and unfinished, made around the same time for what would have been a double album titled It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper. As a listening experience, the package will appeal more to those who value the instrumental Beefheart; the Mirror Man album is, of course, essentially a 50-plus-minute jam session, containing as it does only four songs, and the bonus tracks -- many of which appeared on the One Way label's reissue of Safe as Milk -- mostly consist of jams and instrumentals which push the boundaries of conventional blues-rock, with a Beefheart vocal tossed in here and there. Some may miss Beefheart's surreal poetry, gruff vocals, and/or free jazz influence, while others may find it fascinating to hear the Magic Band simply letting go and cutting loose. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1968 | Parlophone Catalogue

Considered by many to be a substandard effort due to the circumstances of its release (producer Bob Krasnow, the owner of Blue Thumb, the label which debuted with this album, remixed the album while Don Van Vliet and crew were off on a European tour, adding extraneous sound effects like heartbeats and excessive use of psychedelic-era clichés like out-of-phase stereo panning and flanging), 1968's Strictly Personal is actually a terrific album, every bit the equal of Safe As Milk and Trout Mask Replica. Opening with "Ah Feel Like Ahcid," an a cappella blues workout with its roots in Son House's "Death Letter," the brief (barely 35 minutes) album is at the same time simpler and weirder than Safe As Milk had been. Working without another songwriter or arranger for the first time, Captain Beefheart strips his idiosyncratic blues down to the bone, with several of the songs (especially "Son of Mirror Man/Mere Man") having little in the way of lyrics or chords beyond the most primeval stomp. Krasnow's unfortunate sound effects and phasing do detract from the album at points, but the strength of the performances, especially those of drummer John French, make his efforts little more than superfluous window dressing. Strictly Personal is a fascinating, underrated release. © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 30, 2019 | The Viper Label

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Soul - Released January 10, 2017 | HHO

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Blues - Released June 12, 2007 | Rhino - Warner Records

Had this powerful concert been issued somewhat more concurrent to its performance, the appreciation of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band as an active recording and touring unit might have been radically altered. As it stands, the mid- to late ‘70s were not kind to Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet) who became mired in litigation and ultimately forced to surrender the master tapes to a project titled Bat Chain Puller recorded at Frank Zappa's Utility Research Muffin Kitchen studios. After reassembling a new version of the Magic Band, Beefheart emerged with his compromise to the preceding project -- now re-titled Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). In support, the Magic Band were booked into small clubs throughout the States. On Saturday, November 19, 1978, the venue was the intimate confines of the 200-seat My Father's Place in Roslyn, New York. I'm Gonna Do What I Wanna Do documents the entire show from the only professional recording made of this tour. As fate would have it, a local FM station, WLIR, was running an open-reel, two-track machine in order to re-broadcast the show on December 11, 1978. This tape is the source for I'm Gonna Do What I Wanna Do. Performing at what one can only surmise as the height of their powers is an enthusiastically frenetic Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. They rip into every track with perpetual energy and restless verve. It is no surprise that the meat of the set is derived from Bat Chain Puller. However, there are several additional inclusions of note: "Abba Zabba," the proto-punk "Dropout Boogie," as well as the title track, all from Safe As Milk. From the indispensable Trout Mask Replica are "Old Fart at Play," "Veteran's Day Poppy," as well as an intense and highly interactive "Well." Equally as incendiary are the readings of "Nowadays a Woman's Gotta Hit a Man" and the surrealistic love song "Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles" from the Clear Spot album. This incarnation of the Magic Band performs with the vital and instinctual precision needed when attempting the multiple time signatures and highly improvisational nature of the Beefheart-led jams. The set is replete with examples, one of which is the searing interaction displayed during the waning moments of "Owed T' Alex." In addition, several notable Magic Band members appeared in this touring unit, including former Zappa sidemen Bruce Fowler on trombone, and eclectic percussionist Robert Williams. Kudos to Rhino HandMade for not only realizing the importance of preserving and presenting this show, but also for delivering the goods in a most unusual and apt fashion. As the complete performance is over 83 minutes in length, producers were faced with over three minutes of audio beyond the capacity of a standard CD. Instead of editing (gasp! horrors!), they wisely chose to make the package a double-disc set. Taking that decision a step further, instead of using a full-length disc for less than a quarter-hour's worth of audio, both encores were designated to the second CD, which is made to look like a three inch golf ball. That motif continues elsewhere within the packaging -- on the inner spine of the rear tray card, to be exact -- with the words "Captain Beefheart Calls It God's Golfball." That quote is in reference to the graphics on the first CD, which is designed to look like planet earth from space (aka "God's Golfball"). Brilliant!! It is this great attention to the minutiae and mindset of its'target audience which place Rhino HandMade releases in a class of their own. © Lindsay Planer /TiVo