Gary Lucas - The Essential (2021) - Album Review

By Sergio Ariza

The perfect introduction to the wonderful world of Gary Lucas

Gary Lucas
is, unfairly, a footnote in rock history, with his work on Captain Beefheart's last two albums before his retirement and his collaboration with Jeff Buckley on the seminal Grace, composed alongside the singer, and his "Magical Guitarness" on Mojo Pin and the title track, being the two things most fans are aware of. But this guitarist has been releasing fascinating work under his name or that of his band, Gods And Monsters, for over 30 years.


So The Essential is not only a great album but also a necessary one, and the fact is that getting into a career as wide and heterogeneous as this brilliant guitarist's is a difficult task. This is because Lucas has recorded all kinds of albums, from rock and blues with Gods And Monsters to soundtracks and classical music, passing through explorations of Chinese pop from the 30's or multiple collaborations with such mythical people such as the aforementioned Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley, but also Nick Cave, David Johansen of the New York Dolls and Lou

It is impossible to easily select songs from a work that is already in itself a very important work of compilation on a vast work, even so I love the beginning with the acoustic fingerpicking of Fata Morgana, with its bluesy touches on the slide, the intricate and psychedelic melody of Poison Tree, sung by the great Mary Margaret O'Hara, and the strength of Skin The Rabbit, one of the first songs he composed, with its huge wah solo. Of course, it is impossible not to get excited listening to one of the best voices of all times, Jeff Buckley, singing the first version of the immortal Grace, with a Lucas on fire with his 64 Strat. The different parts of Whip Named Lash also stand out, especially that incredible final solo in which Lucas uses his Gibson Firebird.


From Disk 2 I'd highlight the delicacy of the cover of My Wall by Bai Kwong, who was nicknamed the Chinese Mae West; the percussion and Cuban horns of the version with Los Van Van of his Out From Under, sung by the daughters of Pablo Milanés; the excellent cover, with Nona Hendryx of Labelle on lead vocals, of one of Beefheart's best songs, Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles; the recreation of his alien solo on Van Vliet's Flavor Bud Living; his song, Rishte, with Indian singer Najma Akhtar, who Lucas says has been his best collaborator since Jeff Buckley and, finally, that finale in which Lucas and his slide take Dvorak's Symphony Number 9 to the Mississippi Delta.

This is an excellent work that will serve as a perfect introduction to the wonderful world of Gary Lucas, a guy who deserves much more recognition for his own work, beyond his collaborations with popular music giants like Buckley, Beefheart or Cave.