Album Review: Belew’s First Two (Island)

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Few things strike terror in the hearts of audiophiles more than greatest hits compilations or dual CD collections.

Adding the words “digitally remastered” usually means trouble at best and maximum compression at the worst.  Lack of mastering credits and a pedigreed engineer only adds to the fear.  But not this time – whoever did the remastering on these discs did an admirable job.

Considering that these two albums are only available as Japanese imports and tough to find, (as well as pretty pricey when one can find them) this CD containing both of Belew’s first albums from 1982 and 1983 has to be the bargain of the year for £10. Originally recorded to analog tape, Lone Rhino and Twang Bar King show a more playful side of this legendary guitarist than his work with King Crimson.  Headphone listeners and those with exceptional speakers will relish the endless layers of texture present on both albums.

Opening with “Big Electric Cat,” Belew dives right in with his signature tonal excursions making noises that sound more like wild animals than Stratocasters, with a large portion of overdubs thrown in for good measure.  The rest of the album finds Belew flirting with relationship issues (“The Momur”, “Stop It” and “The Man in the Moon”),  animal perceptions on the title track along with a few brief tape looped guitar jams, with some great sax and piano riffs mixed in for good measure.

While covering the Fab Four is usually off limits for this author, Twang Bar King begins with a killer cover of the Beatles “I’m Down.”  And though there is no lack of guitar prowess here, Belew leans more towards a song-based record for his second solo effort, with the tunes being shorter and more upbeat – combining some great, borderline reggae beats in with his guitar work.

His sense of humor intact, he gives us “Fish Heads” and “The Ideal Woman” where he can’t quite decide the parameters for the perfect female, but decides she is somewhere between 5 foot 6 and 5 foot 9; and blonde.  Twang Bar King ends as Lone Rhino does, with a somewhat dissonant ode to an animal – this time a whale.

Whether you missed these the first time around, or just forgot about them, these records are well worth revisiting – they must have been great fun to produce back in the Bahamas in the 80′s. – Jeff Dorgay

 

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