Gary Lucas   reviews  

Rolling Stone, December 21, 1997

"Evangeline" Named One of the Best CD's of the Year

Good all year 'round: GARY LUCAS plays his own tunes and those of Richard Wagner, Sun Ra, Lalo Schifrin and Blind Blake on Evangeline (Paradigm, CD), an all-acoustic holiday from the guitarist's usual effects-pedal, genre-stew escapades. You've probably never heard "Wedding March" as a double-time campfire hop; you've almost certainly never heard "The Wall," a gorgeous weeper first cut by the Chinese singer Bai Kwong in the 1940s and excavated by Lucas with stately anguish.

—David Fricke

Billboard Magazine, July 1997

Lead review in 'Pop' section

*Gary Lucas

Former Captain Beefheart guitar phenom and Jeff Buckley collaborator Gary Lucas turns in an album of typically jaw-dropping fretwork, although this time it's all acoustic. The range of material is nearly as amazing as the man's instrumental facility, with Lucas pulling off Wagner transcriptions, Chinese pop tearjerkers, soundtrack abstractions, and bluesy improvs with equal aplomb. The few vocal numbers are a distraction, but program the instrumentals in a row and it's pure pleasure. Lucas' electric side is even finer (see "Skeleton at the Feast" on Enemy), so here's to a label releasing his next electric album soon.

Guitar Player Magazine, April 1997

Gary Lucas—"Evangeline"

A veteran of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band, Gods & Monsters and New York's downtown avant-garde, the eclectic Lucas is also a considerable back-porch acoustic finger-picker. His edgy originals are driven by the rhythm of emotions rather than metronome perfectionism, and his short-of-breath vocals have an appealing down-and-out vibe. Gary's resophonic and wood-body playing ranges from the sublime to the unabashedly lunatic, as on "Ah Feel Like Ah Syd." Other tunes recast a half-century-old Chinese hit, a Wagner wedding march, Sun Ra's "Interstellar Low Ways," Blind Blake's "Police Dog Blues" and Lalo Schifrin's "Cool Hand Luke."
Zensor (Manteuffelstrasse 40, 10997 Berlin, Germany). —JO

Stereoplay (Germany), April 1997

Gary Lucas—"Evangeline"

by Hans-Friedrich Bottcher

An exciting whirl between country and blues, "The Animal Flesh Comes Creeping Back" opens this brightly colored dispatch from this New York acoustic guitarist. Nothing is so holy that it can't be run through his guitar treatment. And so Chinese pop and film music go side by side with the Tannhauser Overture. And if Lucas has even acknowledged his affinity for Leo Kottke, he later mesmerizes us with visions in the style of Fred Frith and Henry Kaiser: a string magician of all styles.
Music: 8-9, Songs: 6, Recording: 8

Mojo Magazine (UK), March 1997

Gary Lucas—"Evangeline"

by Mike Barnes

Fourth solo album by the US guitar virtuoso and songwriter who has worked with Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley, Joan Osborne, Lou Reed and Kevin Coyne.

Gary Lucas is understandably proud of his spell with Captain Beefheart's Magic Band, which ended in '82. But since then he's taken himself and his guitar into a wholly individual territory. As well as fronting his own band, Gods and Monsters, he has collaborated with Joan Osborne, co-writing the recently Grammy-nominated "Spider Web." On "Evangeline" he's strictly solo and at his best.

The album ranges from knuckle-busting bluegrass mutations to finely crafted songs, '30s Chinese movie music to a Sun Ra tribute. And it's all acoustic, with just occasional sonic enhancement, as on the spectacular slide guitar piece Ah Feel Like Ah Syd. Eclectic it most definitely is, but Lucas stamps his personality firmly on the material and his playing is stunning throughout.

The Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock, March 1997

Skeleton at the Feast (Enemy) 1992
Gods and Monsters (Enemy) 1992
Bad Boys of the Arctic (Enemy) 1994
The Killer Shrews (Enemy) 1993

Gary Lucas has toured Europe with Leonard Bernstein playing his Mass and was a member of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band in its final recording lineup (on "Ice Cream for Crow," after a cameo on the previous "Doc at the Radar Station"). He has produced albums for eclecticist Peter Gordon and jazz saxist Tim Berne and is a mainstay of Manhattan's downtown avant-rock scene. He also joined Joan Osborne on her "Relish" album and co-wrote songs that appeared on Jeff Buckley's "Grace." Most of which efforts manifest the salient fact here: he's one mutha of a guitarist.

What makes Lucas so terrific is not just his technique, of which he has loads, but also his imagination, his openness to different musical forms (and ability to meld them) and his sense of humor. (In the notes to "Skeleton at the Feast," Lucas calls Wyndham Lewis' witticism that "laughter is the mind sneezing" a good description of his music.) Imagine a combination of John Fahey, Jeff Beck, Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix and James Williamson—sounds potentially disgusting, actually, but it's as if Lucas has somehow gleaned all their best bits in simpatico fashion. "Skeleton at the Feast" is Lucas live in a solo mode: on electric, National Steel and twelve-string, both unadulterated and channeled through a maze of effects boxes, playing mostly his own blues-based ("Robert's Johnson") compositions, but also a medley of "Little Drummer Boy" and "Are You Experienced?" and "Hitchcocked," which interprets/interpolates Bernard Herrmann's themes from "Vertigo" and "Psycho." The last half-hour of the album is a live recording of a superbly evocative score for the 1921 German silent film "The Golem," which he composed with Walter Horn, who plays keyboards.

"Gods and Monsters" is the name of Lucas' second album as well as his ever-changing band. That widely varying fluidity is the source of its—and "Bad Boys of the Arctic"'s—strengths (when he is enhanced by his collaborators) and weaknesses (when their presence dominates or seems forced). "Gods and Monsters" features ex-Woodentops leader Rolo McGinty as well as cameos by Mekon Jon Langford, ex-Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone and Tackhead drummer Keith LeBlanc. It may be the best introduction to Lucas because it's the most eclectic: some acoustic material, a clutch of tracks rooted in (but looking past) folk-blues, a flirtation with rap and splendid interpretations of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" and, linked, Miles Davis' "Jack Johnson" and Suicide's "Ghostrider."

"Bad Boys of the Arctic" is more of a Gods and Monsters band record (there's even a live track from one of their gigs), but the cast of contributors is as extensive as before. Singing (which Lucas does on four tracks) is not his, er, strong suit, but he gets welcome lead vocals from Dina Emerson (bohemian siren) and Sonya Cohen (wistful young thing) on five tracks. Again, his exuberance carries the day; covers this time are radical reworkings of the late avant-cellist/vocalist Arthur Russell's "Let's Go Swimming" and Percy Grainger's "Children's March."

The Killer Shrews is his collaboration with Langford and Maimone. Much rockier than any of Lucas' albums, more esoteric than the Mekons and with greater funkified rhythmic drive than either, it's a pleasant surprise for this kind of super-session. The verbiage ranges from smart ("Handfull of Gimme (And a Mouth Fulla Much Obliged)") to just plain silly ("Bring Me the Fat in California"), but the riffs (even—gasp!—tunes) are generally catchy, and there's gobs of enjoyably indulgent show-off guitaring by Lucas. The rip-roaring take on "The Brain From the Planet Eros" is a step up from the lo-fi version on "Gods and Monsters." The vocalizing, mostly Langford's, is homely but tolerable; Barbara Manning guest sings on two tracks. [jg]

Washington Jewish Week, February 1997

Golem fever strikes District
1920s silent classic opens with new score

by Aviva Kempner, Special to WJW

As a youngster, Gary Lucas was intrigued with the Golem legend and loved reading monster magazines. When the musician was asked to develop an original score for an interdisciplinary subject in 1989, he immediately thought of composing music for the 1920 classic silent film, "The Golem."

Director Paul Wegener's movie depicts how Rabbi Loew of Prague created a clay creature to help Jews in the 16th century ghetto defend themselves against a pogrom. This monster movie predated the American film, "Frankenstein." The melodrama also contains a subplot of intermarriage—the rabbi's daughter is romanced by a Christian man.

Jazz-rock guitarist Lucas, 44, will premiere his composition during two separate screenings of "The Golem" on Saturday, March 1 at 7 and 9:30pm at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center. He will introduce both programs.

The talented musician says that he has been "interested in Jewish myths and legends. In my music there is a fascination with ghostly images. In my other works, I pay attention to otherworldly sounds. I like the supernatural atmosphere."

His latest release is entitled "Gods and Monsters" [sic—it's really "Evangeline"]. He has worked with Leonard Bernstein, Dr. John, Lou Reed and Allen Ginsberg.

Lucas grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and became a bar mitzvah in a Reform congregation. However, he feels his roots are in Eastern Europe, especially in Prague. His great-grandfather changed the family's last name from Lichtenstein and his father's family originally came from Bohemia in Czechoslovakia.

The musician performs often in Eastern Europe, appearing on television. When Lucas mentions his original last name, his is told "you must be a blue blood." The other side of the family comes from Poland.

Lucas notes that the rabbi in "The Golem" is "based on actual historical fact. I have visited the rabbi's grave in the old Jewish quarter." Lucas uses his rich imagination to expain how these ancient grave sites "look like twisted teeth in the giant's mouth."

Rabbi Judah Loew "inherited" the Golem legend, already well-established in Jewish folklore, from earlier tales about Rabbi Elijah of Chelm, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica.

Commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music to do the score, Lucas remembers his excitement over screening the film at the Museum for Modern Art. "I flipped out [over] how superb the film is. My music could dovetail beautifully and complement the film. The movie screamed for the score."

Lucas has also performed his score at the Knitting Factory in New York.

Lucas said there was an original score for "The Golem" but it was lost. In his library research Lucas found a review of the score, which, during the era of silent films, was performed by an orchestra.

"My score draws on the past," he said. "It has Jewish melodies along with some ironic quotes from other classical music."

Lucas thinks he knows why "The Golem" is a movie that works today. "The subject matter is timely. Even though Jews have made strides, they still are being threatened. This movie talks about how a rabbi creates a Golem to protect Jews under threat of a pogrom in the 16th century."

This movie is a tour de force with stunning set designs. A whole village and town was built for the film. There is a cast of hundreds who were marshaled on a soundstage in Germany.

Golem fever is hitting popular culture. A recent children's book award went to a book based on the Golem story. The popular television show "The X-Files" aired an episode based on a Golem legend (WJW, Feb. 20). "I hope Golem mania sweeps the world," Lucas joked.

Lucas asserts he "feels comfortable with my heritage and finding out more about my roots in Eastern Europe. I am drawn to the story of 'The Golem' because it shows Jews as heroes and Jews as a master of their destiny."

Toronto Now Magazine, January 1997

Gary Lucas—"Evangeline"
Rating: NNNN (out of 5 N's)

by Tim Perlich

Guitar maestro Gary Lucas may be best known for his work with Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley, Joan Osborne and Jon Langford, but it's when he's alone with his Fender Stratocaster, National steel or 1946 Gibson J-45 acoustic that the breadth of his artistry is truly revealed.

Where Lucas fundamentally departs from his dour, string-bending soloist contemporaries—though, admittedly, his stylistic melding of bluegrass, pre-war blues, klezmer, flamenco, film scores and British psychedelic whimsy puts him in a dimension all his own—is that his whole approach is geared to stirring souls rather than the technical refinement with which it's accomplished. He also has a sense of humor.

On "Evangeline," recorded live at various intimate venues between New York and Prague, Lucas lurches Shanghai pop hits from the 40s, Blind Blake blues grinds and Lalo Schifrin's title theme from Cool Hand Luke with the very same maniacal intensity that makes the Wedding March sound like he wrote it. A class act.