Rhubarb's Revenge

Confessions of a Big Lanky Dope

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One of two things tends to result when a bunch of friends, who are not particularly skilled musically, get together to piddle around on instruments every night as accompaniment to their beer drinking: a self-indulgent, unlistenable mess or some incompetently inspired noodling. With Rhubarb's Revenge it is a mixture of both extremes. Not quite the lost classic that it's been made out to be, the sole album from this collective is, instead, one of the oddest, audaciously uneven chunks of aural lunacy from the early 1970s. Still, it is a treasure of some sort, if a periodically maddening one. One cannot tell if their cover versions of songs by the Zombies, Kinks, Byrds, Move, Rolling Stones, and CSNY are meant in homage or as parodies, or if they were just motivation-free goofs: "Time of the Season" loses the mystical aloofness that makes the Zombie classic so wonderful and replaces it with seemingly austere portentousness and funky electric guitar chords; and "Words of Aaron" is played pretty straight but the band still manages to deflate some of the song's vague pomposity and color it with a fragile beauty. They also turn the Stones' "2000 Man" into a White Album-like outtake, and the Kinks' "Victoria" into the finest Three Dog Night/Canned Heat grafting ever attempted, oddly enough making it one of the best performances on the album. "Mr. Spaceman" here seems somehow more "authentically" country than (though ultimately not as excellent as) the Byrds version and at least as much fun, with a goofball charm all its own. Their cover of "Ohio," on the other hand, almost reaches the heights of the original but in a much more demo-like, ramshackle way. Chris Breetveld manages to sound like Neil Young's little brother, and although the harmonies are (understandably) not even close to being as pristine as those of CSNY, the band adds lovely, poignant flute flourishes. Given the number of covers present, the original Rhubarb's Revenge songs are surprisingly accomplished: "Lonely," with a melody that Jim Croce could have wrapped his voice around, is far too short; "When I Feed My Prize Hog" shows a Zappa influence, but replaces his doo wop with barbershop gospel; and "Nice Spot in the Dark" shamelessly steals the bassline from "Sympathy for the Devil," but turns it into the basis for a tremendous Santana-cum-CSNY groove. Everything finally comes together on the fabulous "Tomorrow Begins Today"; there are unconventionally good harmony arrangements, rhythmic shifts that come out of nowhere, touches of soul, and a perfectly placed saxophone, not to mention in-the-pocket, coctail-jazz playing. Although certainly a part of the band members' m.o., silliness is not as prevalent on the album as the liner notes (and all superficial appearances) would lead one to believe, and the competence level of the musicianship is actually quite high. The recording quality is less than perfect, but the production touches and arrangements are refreshingly intuitive and perceptive. Rhubarb's Revenge could have done some real damage in an actual studio.

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