Bat Chain Puller review by Thomas van den Reydt

It has been a week now since the cd landed on my mat. It has been in my cd-player ever since. Even now – at work – I find it playing in my head. I had never heard these recordings prior to this edition. I don’t really download, didn’t buy the bootlegs and, although tempted by the wicked Ozit, decided not to line their pockets – mostly because of fear of incurring the wrath of the good people of the Fireparty.

It’s such a shame that this didn’t come out when it was intended to. It would have meant room for moving on to other things, rather than trying to recapture these songs on subsequent albums. This not-coming-out seems to have stifled the flow of music through the band somewhat. And, although I still love the other versions of the tracks, somehow here it’s as if the tracks and their relation to each other means something.

The playing here is just too beautiful. The Magic Band seems relaxed, polished and not hurried. The sounds achieved are some of the roundest, most determined yet playful of any the Magic Band musicians have accomplished. They all compliment each other. That beautiful Rhodes sound of John Thomas coupled with the nervous abandon of Moris Tepper. The great, somehow humourous drumming by French next to that assured slide by Walley – not to mention French’s lyrical take on guitar in Flavor Bud Living. And Don’s voice striking a medium between his soulful and declamatory sides I find breathtaking, to be honest. I do hear some insecurities here and there, as if he couldn’t project as professionally as the music does – or rather: his lack of rehearsal shows through. Productionwise it’s the same happy medium – wellroundedness coupled with some of the stinging aridity of some earlier recordings. And is that heavy syrup I detect in places?

It is hard for me to pick favourites between the versions of the songs on this record in relation to later versions. And furthermore, I don’t even have to, since music is not a competition – do you hear me: The Voice? Owed T’ Alex has never done much for me, nor has Carrot, nor has Boot Stomp, but hearing them like this, something clicked (and clacked) in my head. Totem Pole has a more sophisticated, less disjointed big brother. And Flavor Bud Living has an excruciatingly beautiful sister.

This last one was the hardest for me. I love the exploding note version with a vengeance – always have – but it has never brought me to tears as this version has. Maybe, when my wife is back from France, I can play this for her and she can finally appreciate the beauty of the melodies contained within this piece. Maybe it can even function as a pacifier for our unborn son. Indoctrination in the womb, so to speak.

Thanks to Gail and Jan for finally releasing this bird into Beefheartlandian skies. Long may she soar.

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