Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters: The Ordeal of Civility (Knitting Factory)
You know that Visa ad sporting the slogan "One card. A wealth of possibilities"? Gary Lucas is "One guitarist. A wealth of possibilities." This time out, the man who's played with Leonard Bernstein and Captain Beefheart, who's played music ranging from old-time Chinese pop songs to gutbucket blues to Wagner to brooding silent film soundtrack, and who co-wrote two of Jeff Buckley's best-known songs, convenes his eclectic rock band Gods and Monsters for a wide-ranging yet thoroughly cohering album that bounces from weird swamp boogie to acoustic blues to jazzy stomps to English folk, mostly tied together by Lucas's slippery, stinging slide guitar.
Former Gods and Monsters singers have included Buckley and Matthew Sweet, but nowadays Lucas handles the singing himself. While there's a certain virtuosity lost by that, there's certainly no lack of character; the sepulchral tone he frequently uses fits the often grim (though generally witty) lyrics.
As it has for several years, Gods and Monsters includes Modern Lovers bassist Ernie Brooks, Television drummer Billy Ficca, Microscopic Septet/Hungry March Band saxophonist Jason Candler, and the versatile Joe Hendel (keyboards, trombone); occasional keyboardist Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads, bandmate of Brooks in Modern Lovers) produces. This talented crew is more than capable of hanging with Lucas through all his sharp turns and tricky tangents, spicing up the proceedings with an abundance of timbres.
Only Lucas could end an album with a song about a pogrom and have it somehow come across as an entirely appropriately exultant anthem. Given a couple of spins and a chance to get used to Lucas’s oddball singing style, this album will grow on you and reveal itself to be full of quirkily catchy songs. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer whose newest work is a four-song cycle setting poems from James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach.