Gary Lucas – Guitarist of a Thousand Faces

The question isn't how much we dig Gary Lucas – because we do, quite a lot – but rather which Gary Lucas we dig the most. Because Gary is something of a chameleon, an intrepid, multitalented musical Zelig surrounded by a billowing nimbus of concerns. And trying to get one's head around all of them at once is a little like gift-wrapping a particularly squirmy lemur.

Gary the guitarist has one foot set firmly in the archival past, another in the here-and-now, and still a third auxiliary tendril extending into the angelic/demonic aether. Gary plays his National steel like a hillbilly locked in a Starbucks overnight. You won't find a lot of overstressed blues orthodoxy in his slippery licks, but rather a quick stream of ideas that evoke rural music in a series of rapid-fire flashbacks (except, of course, when channeling the music's essence for such projects as the Maysles Brothers' documentary “Lalee's Kin”). The down-home Lucas is heard to best effect in the Du-Tels, his psychedelic folk collaboration with Holy Modal Rounder co-founder Peter Stampfel, and boy do they seem to get off on nuking the past.

Anything is possible when Gary straps on an ax. On the one hand, Gods and Monsters represents a new kind of traditionalism, one in which angular pop, classic-rock storytelling, evocative Americana, and Gary's deep cinephilia – witness his gripping score to “The Golem”, a silent 1920 German Expressionist film, or “The Edge of Heaven”, his ineffably beautiful tribute to mid-twentieth century Chinese film music – to paint a cubist portrait of a triple-eyed, double-jointed artist in unceasing transition. On the other, the seeming hundred fingers that played Captain Beefheart's "Flavor Bud Living" in the early-eighties in the Magic Band of “Doc at the Radar Station” and “Ice Cream for Crow” continues to ponder the neoprimitive ineffable in the current Magic Band's ongoing Beefheart tribute and alongside saxophonist Phillip Johnston in the Beefheart instrumental project Fast 'n' Bulbous.

There's also Lucas the cagey collaborator and crafty songwriting partner of such lucky recipients as Joan Osborne and the late, lamented Jeff Buckley. Or Gary the international experimentalist duetting with Dutch lutist Jozef Van Wissem. No, you'll never be able to pin him down. He's both a rocker with avant-garde tendencies *and* an experimentalist who loves to kick out the jams *and* a blues-loving purveyor of abstract loops that roll endlessly into the night.

All of Gary Lucas's concerns coalesce in Gods and Monsters. A power trio with as much brains as brawn, G&M is one of New York City's secret supergroups. Good and evil, comedy and tragedy, Laurel and Hardy, the ridiculous and the sublime – choose your own polarities and watch Lucas and Co. blend them into something uniquely diverse, a crowd of voices all singing wonderfully in tune. Just don't try to fence them in.

Richard Gehr
Brooklyn, April 2005