Operators Are Standing By: The Essential Gary Lucas 1988-1996
Guitarist Gary Lucas falls into the “greatest unknown” category to a majority of music fans. But it was his shimmering, ethereal Stratocaster sound that helped make Jeff Buckley’s debut album Grace the revelation that it was. His work with Captain Beefheart (on Ice Cream For Crow and Doc at the Radar Station) helped send the good Captain out of performing on a high note, and Lucas has performed for a host of others since then, ranging from Can to Joan Osborne. Thusly, an “essential” collection of his works would most likely span several CDs, but as an introduction to his sound, this set manages to work.
First off, avoid the opening track, “They Can’t Believe He’s Risen Again.” The only disbelief you’ll encounter here is that it’s actually Gary Lucas. Plodding, Spinal Tap-ish metal that squanders his talents in a brutish, prog-rock sorta way. Ugh. But, once that miscue is skipped, what follows is an eclectic sampler of accessible virtuosity. A few cuts with Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers) and Tony Maimone (Wacos, Pere Ubu) are strong, song-oriented numbers, while Lucas’ theme from the Eastenders television show proves his command of the instrumental. Add a wicked cover of Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett’s “Astronomy Domine,” and what you have is a collection of songs that works both as an introduction to a brilliant talent as well as just enjoyable, if challenging, listening.