Saturday, 31 March 2018

"Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972" by CAPTAIN BEEFHEART (November 2014 Rhino 4CD Box Set - Dan Hersch and Brian Kehew Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"Sun Zoom Spark" takes its title from a track on the wonderfully bat-shit "Clear Spot" album from 1972. But by my calculations, the last time CD remasters were applied to Captain Beefheart's hugely sought after trio of Seventies albums listed below was over 20 years ago (in 1993 I believe). 

So this 2014 reissue box set of 4CDs by Rhino Records of the USA with its truly fabulous sonic overhaul has been long overdue and is made all the more exciting by Previously Unreleased goodies on Disc 4. Makes me want to booglarize my big toe right quick and grow fins. But before we get all metaphysical on yo ass - here are the Smithsonian Institute Blues, Golden Birdies and Big-Eyed Beans from Venus...

UK released Monday 17 November 2014 - "Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972" by CAPTAIN BEEFHEART on Rhino R2 541728 (Barcode 603497905553) is a 4CD Box Set of Remasters that breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (38:48 minutes):
1. Lick My Decals Off, Baby
2. Doctor Dark
3. I Love You, You Big Dummy
4. Peon
5. Bellerin' Plain
6. Woe-Is-Uh-Me-Bop
7. Japan in A Dishpan
8. I Wanna Find A Woman That'll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go [Side 2]
9. Petrified Forest
10. One Red Rose That I Mean
11. The Buggy Boogie Woogie
12. The Smithsonian Institute Blues (Or The Big Dig)
13. Space-Age Couple
14. The Clouds Are Full Of Wine (Not Whiskey Or Rye)
15. Flash Gordon's Ape
Tracks 1 to 15 are the album "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" - his fourth album first released October 1970 in the USA on Straight/Reprise RS 6240 and January 1971 on Straight STS 1063 in the UK.

Disc 2 (35:59 minutes):
1. I'm Gonna Booglarize You Baby
2. White Jam
3. Blabber 'n Smoke
4. When It Blows Its Stacks
5. Alice In Blunderland
6. The Spotlight Kid [Side 2]
7. Click Clack
8. Grow Fins
9. There Ain't No Santa Claus On The Evenin' Stage
10. Glider
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 5th studio album "The Spotlight Kid" - released February 1972 in the USA on Reprise Records RS 2050 and Reprise K 44162 in the UK

Disc 3 (37:30 minutes):
1. Low Yo Yo Stuff
2. Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man
3. Too Much Time
4. Circumstances
5. My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains
6. Sun Zoom Spark
7. Clear Spot [Side 2]
8. Crazy Little Thing
9. Long Neck Bottles
10. Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles
11. Big Eyed Beans From Venus
12. Golden Birdies
Tracks 1 to 12 are his sixth studio album "Clear Spot" - released November 1972 in the USA on Reprise MS 2115 and February 1973 in the UK on Reprise K 54007

Disc 4 "Out-Takes 1970 to 1972" (46:39 minutes):
1. Alice In Blunderland (Alternate Version) [3:55 minutes]
2. Harry Irene [3:33 minutes]
3. I Can't Do This Unless I Can Do This/Seam Crooked Sam [2:00 minutes]
4. Pompadour Swamp/Suction Prints [4:23 minutes] - see NOTE
5. The Witch Doctor Life (Instrumental Take) [5:27 minutes]
6. Two Rips In A Haystack/Kiss Me My Love [2:38 minutes]
7. Best Batch Yet (Track) Version 1 [2:18 minutes]
8. Your Love Brought Me To Life (Instrumental) [3:11 minutes]
9. Dirty Blue Gene (Alternate Version 1) [2:52 minutes]
10. Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man (Early Mix) [3:59 minutes]
11. Kiss Where I Kain't (Instrumental) [2:44 minutes]
12. Circumstances (Alternate Version 2) [3:23 minutes]
13. Little Scratch [2:57 minutes]
14. Dirty Blue Gene (Alternate Version 3) [3:03 minutes]
All Tracks Previously Unreleased. Note: "Pompadour Swamps" appeared on the Virgin Records LP "Bluejeans And Moonbeams" LP in November 1974 - but the music is an early version of "Suction Prints" which later appeared on the Virgin Records LP "Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)" in February 1980.

The Box Set (using his own paintings as cover art) is shaped a little like a 7" single set with the sepia-printed 20-page booklet inside and four 5" Card Repro Sleeves inlaid into a centred hollow with a red ribbon to pull them out with ease. The fourth disc not surprisingly utilizes one of his paintings as its artwork - a pastel from 1970 called "Button Down Fashion Bow". Each of the three album repro sleeves is of a very high quality with clear facsimiles of the colour artwork front and rear (no gatefolds). A real nice touch is that "The Spotlight Kid" has the lyric insert that came with original copies of the vinyl album and "Clear Spot" has its outer plastic envelope (I'd put the naked CD in a protective to avoid scratching).

The Box has been produced by STEVE WOOLARD and BILL INGLOT (a long time associate remaster engineer for Rhino) and inspired by TIM FRASER-HARDING. The hugely experienced DAN HERSCH carried out the remasters at D2 Mastering in LA with the "Out-takes" done by BRIAN KEHEW at Timeless Studios in North Hollywood. The remasters are sensational to my ears - full of life and presence - both men are to be praised for their work on this.

The booklet I'm glad to say is a classy affair. The size of a 7" single - it foregoes track lists and time-wasting for an essay called "The Sky Ran Down My Pencil" by RIP RENSE which features extracts from Beefheart interviews, Magic Band Trombonist Fowler, Guitarist Morris Tepper, Eric Feldman - celebrities and admirers like Matt Goening of The Simpsons, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, the famous reviewer Lester Bangs from The Rolling Stone and there's even a wicked poem on Don by none other than TOM WAITS on Page 11. There's a witty quote on the side of the box too. But let's get to the real deal - the sonic wallop...

I'm probably going to elicit the wrath of legions, mental health enquiries and many sharp instruments rammed up the softer parts of my elderly person's flabby behind by saying that I've always found the 1969 double-album "Trout Mask Replica" 'hard going'. I say this because the 1971 single-album follow up "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" (after Replica quite possibly the best album title ever in the Universe) feels like "Trout" Part 2. And for this (spurious I know) reason - its fifteen short 'n' gangly discordant vignettes frankly do my brain in. But - and this is not up for debate or grabs - fans who've been listening to the 1993 "Decals" CD version are going to have their grey matters fried this time around because the new DAN HERSCH remaster sounds unbelievable - fantastically detailed and vibrant - bringing new layers to the music that simply wasn't there before. Comparing the new remaster of say "Woe-Is-Uh-Me-Bop" to its previous version is like comparing a Derby Car wreck to a James Bond's Aston Martin Vanquish - the mad Tom Waits rhythms of "Smithsonian" is the same.

Things go from great to frigging stratospheric on "The Spotlight Kid". There is slight hiss around the opening guitars of "I'm Gonna Booglarize You" for sure - but Mother-of-God when they kick in - the power of the riffage is just HUGE. And then his fantastic voice comes out of the speakers and I'm gone baby gone. The clarity of the pitter-pattering drums and vibes on "Blabber 'n' Smoke" is fantastic and his vocals just 'there' like never before. The same applies to the instrumental "Alice In Blunderland" with that manic Winged Eel Fingerling guitar solo. And I've waited near four decades to hear the harmonica/piano/guitar battle of "Click Clack" sound this good - and that harmonica wailing on "Grow Fins" ("I'm gonna take up with a mermaid...") - wowser!

Then it's on to my favourite album of his and one of the great-unsung masterpieces of the Seventies - the fabulous "Clear Spot". "Nowadays..." sounds amazing - full of life - while you see why people like Everything But The Girl covered the beautiful "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains". The title track rocks and Zoot Horn Rollo's guitar on "Big Eyed Beans From Venus" slides across your speakers like a snake with a Gibson strapped on (lyrics from it title this review). The lovely vibe "Too Much Time" has is now amplified and not over trebled for the sake of it. Great.

The "Out-Takes 1970 to 1972" disc opens strongly with a kicking version of the instrumental "Alice In Blunderland" - wonderful clarity too (no crappy demo feel). He then gets tender on "Harry Irene" and Harmonica Boogie on the short but cool "obscene cookie Sam" song "I Can't Do This..." There's fantastic opening guitar riffing on "Pompadour Stomp" while we get some "right on" dialogue at the beginning of mid-paced instrumental "The Witch Doctor Life". It's Tom Waits time again with "Two Rips In A Haystack" which features his trademark growl vocals sounding not unlike a white Howlin' Wolf. Because I'm so familiar with the realised song - the early mix of "Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit A Man" is utterly brilliant to me - that chug of the brass and guitars have subtle differences - so damn cool. The instrumental "Kiss Where I Kain't" is a fast boogie number that could so easily have been on either "Spotlight" or "Clear Spot". In fact listening the whole of Disc 4 - it feels like the album that should have maybe followed "Clear Spot".

The word genius is liberally bandied about in music - but in truth there's only been a few out-and-out genuine contenders - and the mighty Don Van Vliet was/is one of them. And isn’t it so good to see Rhino return to reissue form and give Captain Beefheart's recorded legacy such a tasty makeover. "Dawned on me man..." - what a winner - and for me a clear reissue of the year 2014.

Rest with the angels and your paintbrushes you anarchic peach...

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