Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CD Review: Captain Beyond's Lost & Found 1972-1973 (2017)

Captain Beyond's Lost & Found 1972-1973
Arguably the first true rock ‘n’ roll ‘supergroup’ of the ’70s, Captain Beyond never rose above the band’s cult status to achieve the fame and fortune they deserved. Formed by former Deep Purple singer Rod Evans (the voice on early Purple hits like “Hush” and “Kentucky Woman”) with guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and bassist Lee Dorman – both refugees from Iron Butterfly – and Bobby Caldwell, Johnny Winter’s former drummer, Captain Beyond sounded like no other band at the time. Their self-titled debut album, released in 1972, was notable for its mind-blowing 3-D cover art (created using lenticular printing) and its heady, ambitious mix of guitar-driven, proto-metal hard rock and improvisational jazz influences.

The music of Captain Beyond was tailor-made for the bourgeoning progressive rock audience, the album’s songs zipping along the grooves with ever-evolving time signatures and whiplash sonic dynamics. In ‘Rhino’ Reinhardt, the band had a guitarist who could rock with the best of his contemporaries but also knew an odd, enticing lick or two, and the Dorman/Caldwell rhythm section played more like seasoned jazzbos than plodding rockers, together developing a complex foundation for Evans’ ‘rock star’ vocals. The album was released by Capricorn Records – better known for its Southern rock fare like the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band – Captain Beyond signed by the label at the request of Duane Allman, an enthusiastic early supporter of the band.

Captain Beyond’s Lost & Found 1972-1973

It was Captain Beyond’s original demo tape, recorded in Rhino’s four-track home studio, which caught the ear of Mr. Allman (and, later, his manager and Capricorn big chief Phil Walden). Although the band re-created the songs from their demo tape for their debut, those original recordings were thought lost for all these years until resurfacing in Bobby Caldwell’s possession. Purple Pyramid’s release of these original demo tapes as Lost & Found 1972-1973 places Captain Beyond’s efforts in proper context, and showcases a band whose immense musical chemistry was obviously present from the very beginning. Unlike other band’s demos that were poorly-recorded and badly transferred onto CD for sale to the hardcore faithful here in the 21st century, the sound quality of the performances on Lost & Found 1972-1973 is pretty good considering the vintage of the tracks, a testament to the veteran performers’ studio experience.

Lost & Found 1972-1973 opens with the previously-unreleased “Uranus Highway,” an exhilarating psych-rock sojourn that “nobody has heard outside of the band” according to Caldwell. Why such an exciting, fully-formed song would fall through the cracks is a mystery, but Rhino’s wiry fretwork, the swirling rhythms, and Evans’ lofty vocals provide four minutes of brand-new excitement. The demo version of “I Can’t Feel Nothing (Part One)” is longer and, to these ears, sounds more confident than the studio version used on Captain Beyond. Rhino’s guitar licks dance and parry like an expert fencer, Evans’ semi-metallic vocals muscle their way out of the mix, and Caldwell’s percussive drumbeats slap your ears with the force of a sledge hammer. The song is just the entry point to the five-song suite that made up much of side two of the original album – tracks like the mesmerizing “As the Moon Speaks (To the Waves of the Sea),” with its shimmering instrumentation and eerie spoken-word passage, or “As The Moon Speaks (Return),” with its staccato Latin rhythms – are perfect showcases for the band’s instrumental virtuosity.

“Icarus” was originally written for singer Rod Evans, although it wasn’t recorded until 1977 with a different singer for the band’s Dawn Explosion album. Evans’ vocals compliment the song quite nicely, soaring along effortlessly on the waves of scorching guitar, cacophonic rhythms, scraps of hallucinogenic keyboards, and an overall intoxicating space-rock vibe. It’s a heavy trip, to be sure, and it probably should have been shoehorned somewhere onto the debut album. The demo take on “Raging River of Fear” is an out-of-control wildfire featuring Rhino’s bluesy, serpentine slide-guitar playing that is obviously inspired by Johnny Winter; the album version, suffice it to say, pales by comparison. The martial rhythms of “Myopic Void” provide a strong center for Evans’ psych-drenched vocals and Rhino’s otherworldly fretwork, the song kicking into overdrive with Caldwell’s explosive percussion and Dorman’s fluid bass lines.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Truth is, there were but a handful of bands making music as innovative as Captain Beyond during the sunrise years of the ‘70s. The American band Gypsy is the only one that readily comes to mind, and while they walked a similar neo-prog path as Captain Beyond, they incorporated more folk than jazz influences into their unique sound. Captain Beyond’s imaginative instrumentation and unique song construction set them apart from a crowded field of early 1970s hard rockers.

Captain Beyond’s reckless musical experimentation in the studio, combined with their electrifying live performances, earned the band a loyal, albeit small group of fans. Fellow travelers like Rush and King’s X have kept the musical spirit of the band alive for a subsequent generations of fans, and young newcomers jump on the bandwagon each passing year. Running a hair short of 30 minutes, the early band demos documented by Lost & Found 1972-1973 are nevertheless a real treat for Captain Beyond fans, and Dave Thompson’s knowledgeable liner notes offer important historical context. Lost & Found 1972-1973 preserves the unvarnished sound and fury of a band that knows they’ve stumbled upon an alchemical formula to create musical magic. Grade: A (Purple Pyramid Records, released June 2, 2017)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Captain Beyond’s Lost & Found 1972-1973 


Anonymous said...

Icarus was NOT written for Rod Evans !
Hello, my name is Lewie Gold and one of the founding members of Captain Beyond and the original keyboardist.
I wrote Icarus before the band even had its first rehearsal and Rod Evans was not even in the group!
Whoever wrote this article has not done their homework. Also Lost and Found was never Lost. It was a rehearsal tape that everybody in the band had a copy of !

Rev. Keith A. Gordon said...

History, as they say, is written by the winners and, in this case, that means Captain Beyond drummer Bobby Caldwell. What you say may well be true, Lewie, but the factual information provided in this review came from Caldwell's liner notes for the album. Looking at the credits on the Dawn Explosion album, you aren't named as one of the songwriters on "Icarus," so maybe you should take it up with the surviving band members...

I didn't title the album Lost & Found -- the label did -- and while it may never have been "lost," for those of us who weren't in the band and had access a copy of the tape, it's very welcome "found" music, indeed! And contrary to your comments, I always do my homework, which includes the knowledge that you left the band before the recording of the first album. If you'd like to write your memories of your tenure in Captain Beyond, I'd be glad to publish them.

Unknown said...

Here is my memory pal!
If you call Purple pyramid,ypu will see that Bobby told them to put me in the liner as writer of Icarus. They neglected to do so as I have talked to them about it!
You can also ask Bobby Caldwell yourself!
FYI,I played keyboard on this lost and found release and I am the one who is playing Icarus thank you!
Remember this was recorded before I left the group.
Go to YouTube and look for Captain Beyond original line up and if you do a little looking yoy will see the discussion about me as the writer of Icarus and more!
I Remain!

Lewie Gold