Mallard

In a Different Climate

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Despite -- or because of -- an acrimonious split with their employer-guru, Captain Beefheart, Mallard's core trio of Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo), Mark Boston (Rockette Morton), and Art Tripp III (Ed Marimba) initially seemed to have weathered the experience well. Their self-titled debut album made a strong case for what the trio saw as their unsung contributions to shaping the Beefheartian sound, even if it wasn't a runaway chart-topper. On the surface, everything looks fine; Harkleroad's guitar work remains the obvious drawing card, while the band's interplay is sturdily self-assured. (The biggest change is the absence of Tripp, who'd gone back to working with Beefheart.) Vocalist Sam Galpin also acquits himself well (yet still sounds eerily like Beefheart, although he claimed not to have heard of him). The problem isn't the material, but the execution -- in this case, production that leans more firmly than ever toward the country-pop/soft vein explored on the debut album's "South of the Valley," an inclination underlined here by John McFee's guest appearance on pedal steel guitar. Although few rock fans understood the Magic Band's methods, they could respect their single-minded identity. Here, the boys seem less concerned with standing out than garnering some of that radio play (an understandable impulse, given their lack of success with Captain Beefheart). The best tracks uphold the left-field sensibility of yore. "Texas Weather" has some terrific imagery ("Cockroaches so big they bark/Water moccasins that lark in the dark"), while "Big Foot" posits the Sasquatch as one of nature's underdogs -- a theme that would have put a smile on Beefheart's face (even if his protégé's public comments triggered a different response). It's hard to say where Mallard could have gone from here, since the band fizzled after this album's release, but the verdict might well read: "Not bad, but not good enough."

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