John French’s new album City of Refuge has been gathering some very good reviews, as well as attracting the inevitable comparisons to Captain Beefheart albums.

The Independent review commented, 12 new songs voiced by Drumbo himself in full Beefheart pastiche mode. How can it work? Reasonably well, as it goes, given the absence of the Cap himself. Guitars cut and thrust, time signatures jerk around and the songs stand up for themselves.

Uncut magazine’s full page piece about Drumbo’s album included this, Does it add up to more than left-overs from a bygone era? If nothing else City of Refuge strikes a blow for musical intelligence and instrumental facility. Yes, it’s a tribute to the inspirational Van Vliet, but it’s also a tribute to the Magic Band itself.

The Sunday Times review pointed out that the needling guitars of Bill Harkleroad and Greg Davidson, aka Zoot Horn Rollo and Ella Guru respectively, still stun, and Drumbo’s desert-wolf growl is more than passable. Beefheart’s largely unsung collaborators have every right to stake their sonic claims, but this odd exercise will infuriate as many fans as it delights.

One fan who reviewed the album for Smooth Jazz Superstars blog had his misunderstandings straightened out by John French himself at Drumbo’s blog.

Among a great many other comments John wrote, Comparing “City of Refuge” to Beefheart albums totally misses the point. It’s meant to scratch an itch that can’t be reached with anything else – at least that I’ve heard. It’s not meant to be a replacement – Van Vliet is irreplaceable. However, everyone must accept that Beefheart will not record again, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to lie down and die because some unenlightened journalist comes to the ridiculous conclusion that “City of Refuge” is “not Beefheart’s.”

I’m told that The Wire gave an excellent review. So did our resident expert Steve Froy here at The Radar Station.

John French’s new group has now performed this material live on a couple of occasions. Let’s hope that 2009 will see many more outings for this music. For more details watch John ‘Drumbo’ French’s MySpace page where a complete song from the album, Bus Ticket Outta Town, has now been posted. A live version of Bogeyman, performed by the new band is also to be found there.

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