Evangeline is guitarist Gary Lucas' first attempt at recording traditional music. A few years before he hit the Tzadik label with his new/old Jewish music fusions, Lucas had been everywhere else. From Captain Beefheart's legendary Magic Band to his own woolly and wonderful unit Gods and Monsters, Lucas has played it all. Evangeline is a solo acoustic guitar record comprised of a mix of traditional songs of various kinds (a theme from Wagner's Tannhauser, a blues by Blind Blake, an old Chinese pop tune, "Here Comes the Bride"), those that should be (Sun Ra's "Interstellar Low Ways," the title theme from Lalo Schifrin's score for the movie Cool Hand Luke), and originals written and sung in that style (such as the title cut, "Judgement at Midnight Suite," and his variation on the traditional "Wedding March"). Lucas' guitar playing is far from the quirk and roar it evokes on other people's records, or even his own Gods and Monsters blasting infamy. Here, armed with only six and twelve strings and his heavy-bottomed voice, Lucas offers a side of himself seldom heard. His finger-picking styles on "The Wall," a Shanghainese ballad that was a hit in the '50s over there, are dizzying, not on their quickness -- save that for the immediately following "Apismatisin'" -- but in their modal, open, dexterous manner of digging deep into chords for their nuances and secrets. On the latter track, it's all fire and brimstone, punching the six-string and leveling his lyric with his dazzling, Clarence White-style flat picking. Another beauty is the Lucas original "A Wandering Minstrel Eye," in C-modal. The creation of the melody is achieved by the fragmentation of augmented and modalized chords that create enough of a platform for a wide open single-string style to play over the drones and, eventually, even those drones get played as runs. The disc closes with Schifrin's "Cool Hand Luke," a melody so recognizable and pilfered it's entered virtually every area of our culture in some way. Lucas plays it close to home, using a reverb and delay box to simultaneously sustain and loop his guitar playing so he can get to both harmonic parts of the theme without a harmonic shift or augmented bridge (Schifrin created the tune as a two-melody work for orchestra). He plays it as if it were the oldest song in the world, with such tenderness and ferocity of heart it feels like he wrote it, or it was written for him. It's the only way to close a stunningly beautiful album. With 15 tracks and 15 jewels, what else is there?
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek