Music

Gary Lucas: The Edge of Heaven

Dave Heaton

Gary Lucas

The Edge of Heaven

Label: Harmonia Mundi
US Release Date: 2003-01-14
UK Release Date: 2002-04-01
Amazon
iTunes

While Lucas's instrumental "Old Dreams" gives listeners a succinct glimpse into the emotions these songs deliver, the otherworldliness which drew Lucas to the original works isn't truly demonstrated until the vocalists appear. All of the 11 songs included here (there's 13 tracks, 2 in both instrumental and vocal versions) were originally sung by Chinese vocalists Bai Kwong and Chow Hsuan in the '30s, '40s, and '50s, and much of those recordings' power comes from the two women's majestic voices. Both sang for films as often as on record, so it's fitting that, as Lucas points out in the liner notes, their songs are starting to show up again in new Chinese films. Lucas mentions Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love as one of these films, and it's true that Chow Hsuan's songs make up an important part of the spell that the film casts.

On The Edge of Heaven, the vocals are handled by Celest Chong and Gisburg. Both excellently capture the piercing yet dreamy quality of the original vocals, sharply conveying the emotions that bowl listeners over as completely as the melodies and atmosphere do. With titles like "Please Allow Me to Look at You Again", "I Wait for Your Return", and "Where Is My Home", these songs deal with love and hope and sadness in stark terms. While the translated lyrics in the liner notes makes those feelings clear for listeners like myself who don't speak the language, understanding what's being said isn't necessary for getting the emotional impact. There's a force to the sounds themselves which is overwhelming. The way the singer's voice meets the guitar, as both clearly express longings, is extraordinary.

Lucas is a guitar player, so though the album is a tribute to two singers, guitar is omnipresent. While he adeptly supports the two vocalists on the songs that have vocals, staying appropriately in the background yet adding immensely to the atmosphere, seven of the 13 songs are instrumentals. These give Lucas the chance to capture a singer's gift through his instrument while playing with the melodies in a more exploratory way. While on "Old Dreams" he swirls impressionistic guitar sounds around the melody, on "If I'm without You", he chooses a straightforward approach, gently but firmly picking the melody. If none of the songs give Lucas the chance to demonstrate the rock chops he honed with Captain Beefheart and Gods and Monsters, on several of them he taps into his love of the blues (something both of those bands also obviously drew from), making a cross-cultural connection that works. "Mad World" has a rolling acoustic-blues sound, while "Where Is My Home" rages with a churning electric blues.

That melding of genres is only a small part of what makes The Edge of Heaven so compelling. While a more blues-oriented guitarist finding similarities between his style and Chinese pop from half a century ago makes for an intriguing musical experience, the album also takes a straightforward enough approach as to be a great introduction to fantastic music that Lucas' average listener isn't likely to know much about. As with any good tribute, if music fans seek out the original recordings after hearing The Edge of Heaven, then Lucas has done them quite a service. What makes this album a cut above is that it's both tribute and reinterpretation, something for everyone.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image