Gary Lucas   reviews  

Rolling Stone, February 9, 1993

Review of "Gods and Monsters"

Gary Lucas

4 Stars

By Robert Palmer

Speed and fluency are no longer enough to make a guitar hero. Yesterday a blinding virtuosity quickly becomes today's practice-room commonplace, as the history of jazz has already shown. Happily, there is still fresh music to be made on the electric guitar, as these two artists from most dissimilar backgrounds spectacularly illustrate [this article originally also included a review of Toninho Horta's "Once I Loved" album on Verve—ed.] What they have in common, other than their instrument, is highly developed and personal finger-picking techniques and a shared determination to avoid cliches.

Lucas honed his awesome, idiosyncratic chops with Captain Beefheart's Magic Band and more recently has been heard as a solo performer, as well as with Mekon Jon Langford and Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone in the Killer Shrews. Gods and Monsters, Lucas's second Enemy album, finds him working with a shifting cast of collaborators, the most prolific being Woodentops singer Rolo McGinty. But if Lucas continues to forge his musical partnerships on the run, Gods and Monsters is nevertheless a breakthrough for him, an album that could serve as the blueprint for a regular performing group. Although he is the principal voice as both singer and guitarist, this music projects a coherent ensemble style and sensibility.

Although it's structurally complex at times, the music on Gods is anything but austere. Lucas builds thick textures out of interlocking patterns, though his unaccompanied solo playing, heard here on "Fool's Cap." "Dream of a Russian Princess" and the Miles Davis-Suicide medley "Jack Johnson/Ghostrider," can get quite dense on its own. The group numbers, while partaking of this intricacy, balance it with soaring melodic flights and, at times, an unexpected but welcome country-rock flavor. Songs like "Glo-worm" recall a more in-your-face Grateful Dead—not at all a bad thing. With this album, Lucas seems poised to break out of his longstanding cult status.