Mallard

Mallard

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Fans always had trouble assessing the Magic Band's contributions on Captain Beefheart's albums because his presence was so overweening. When they did break away, guitarist Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo), Mark Boston (Rockette Morton), and drummer Art Tripp (Ed Marimba) maintained that they'd played a significant role in shaping the sound; this album bolstered their case somewhat. Not surprisingly, many of the Beefheartian trademarks -- such as the guitar/marimba interplay -- are present. So are the off-kilter rhythms, which are more accessible than anything in Beefheart's realm. Harkleroad is the dominant presence, writing or co-writing the material with Boston and drummer/guitarist John (Drumbo) French (who didn't join the band). Vocalist Sam Galpin proves to be another wild card: a former lounge singer who'd reputedly never heard Beefheart, yet sounds eerily like him -- especially on the piano ballad "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train." The overall feel might well be called "country progressive," with lots of tempo changes, and a twangy attack -- as Harkleroad's slide guitar on "She's Long & She's Lean" shows. The Beefheart connections get more intriguing on the elaborately timed instrumental "Road to Morocco" and "Winged Tuskadero," which sets spoken lyrics over country-rock backing. They're either neatly executed bits of plagiarism, or else the band assimilated Beefheart's methods more than they cared to admit. The biggest surprise is "Peon," from Lick My Decals Off, Baby; its appearance seems curious for a band so bent on asserting its own identity. (The band claimed they'd covered the tune so their former boss could earn some badly needed royalties.) The final impression is one of impeccable musicians' more distinctive production and consistent writing to sway the masses; like Beefheart, they weren't anymore successful at the task.