Esoteric Antenna / Northern Spy
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
It’s a constant amazement that New York based guitarist Gary Lucas has maintained such a long, productive and distinguished career while barely brushing up against the mainstream (outside of his session work with Joan Osborne and association with the late Jeff Buckley). Two recent albums, one released in March and the other last fall, suggest once again that the music-buying public should be paying closer attention to the prolific six-string maestro.
For Other World (March 11, via Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red), he joins with another prolific underground legend, Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammill, for a set of intimate art rock tunes. Dissonant weirdness like “Reboot” and “Black Ice” provide the necessary avant garde bonafides, with odd noises, doom + gloom and ebb-and-flow soundscapes a-plenty. But the heart of this record lies in more conventional fare, like the sneering social commentary of “Cash” and “This is Showbiz,” the fame-and-fortune morality tale of “The Kid” and the gorgeous break-up tune “Spinning Coin,” where Lucas provides masterful accompaniment to Hammill’s stentorian croon and poetic lyrics.
Hammill and Lucas have both pushed boundaries whenever they’ve felt like it, but on the surprisingly accessible Other World experimentation takes a back seat to simply serving the song.
Speaking of accessibility, one of film buff Lucas’ more popular pursuits is his soundtrack work – not for contemporary films, but for live shows accompanying silent movies. This has led to him often covering snippets of classic film scores, and now he’s finally released an album dedicated to that pursuit. Cinefantastique (Oct. 11, 2013, Northern Spy) finds Lucas bringing out both acoustic and electric guitars to perform unoverdubbed takes on themes from a wide variety of international films.
From “Our Love is Here to Stay” from An American in Paris, “Casino Royale” from the eponymous flick and “Baili Ha’i” from South Pacific to the themes from Medem’s Sex and Lucia, Tati’s Mon Oncle and Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God, Lucas ranges all over the map, veering from folky fingerpicking to atmospheric pedal manipulation along the way. (At Lucas’ record label page he’s authored a series of appreciations/remembrances of the various films and their songwriters and scores’ composers.)
Other delights include some TV bits (“Howdy Doody Time” and “Charlie Brown” [actually the “Linus and Lucy” theme] from A Charlie Brown Christmas), a pair of impressive mashups (“Fellini’s Casanova” with “Lullaby” from Rosemary’s Baby, his popular live staple blending the themes from Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Psycho) and, best of all, some of his original silent film scores, including the entirety of Entr’acte.
Cinefantastique may be the Lucas equivalent of a pop record, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also one of his best works.
DOWNLOAD: “Spinning Coin,” “The Kid,” “Entr’acte”