Thursday, August 7, 2014

Captain Beefheart - It Comes To You in a Plain Brown Wrapper

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band –
It Comes To You in a Plain Brown Wrapper
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Trust Us
2.  Mirror Man

Side B:
3.  Korn Ring Finger
4.  25th Century Quaker
5.  Safe As Milk

Side C:
6.  Moody Liz
7.  Tarotplane

Side D:
8.  On Tomorrow
9.  Beatle Bones n’ Smokin’ Stones
10.  Gimme Dat Harp Boy
11.  Kandy Korn

This was a long-overlooked follower-request from a few years ago and I was recently reminded to do it!  This is a reconstruction of the unreleased 1968 double-album It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band.  Originally scrapped with half of the material re-recorded and infamously “psychedelicized” for the album Strictly Personal and the other half released as 1972’s Mirror Man, this reconstruction attempts to cull all the originally intended material for the double album that was supposed to be their sophomore release, more successfully bridging the gap between 1967’s Safe As Milk and 1969’s Trout Mask Replica.  Some tracks have been crossfaded to make a continuous side of music (notably Side D) and the most pristine sources are used for the best soundquality, including a vinyl rip of an original pressing of Mirror Man. 
After a prominent rise of notoriety upon the release of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band’s psychedelic-blues debut Safe As Milk in 1967, the group stood at a crossroads of how to proceed: continue being a cutting edge cult act or expanding their horizons?  After a disastrous warm-up performance for their scheduled 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, it seemed that breakthrough success would elude the riotous bunch.   To make matters worse, Don Van Vliet’s band had been damaged by lineup changes due to members who had had enough of The Captain’s drug hallucinations and erratic behavior.  Prodigal guitarist Ry Cooder vacated to be replaced briefly by Gerry McGee, who was in turn replaced by Jeff Cotton. 

Despite the troubled waters, Don reunited with a Magic Band that consisted of Cotton, Alex St. Clair Snouffer, Jerry Handley and John French in the fall of 1967 to record their follow-up to Safe As Milk.  The album was planned to be a double album and was to follow the contemporary fad of extended improvisational jams, as well as featuring a more “live” feel as compared to the first record.  The album was to be called It Comes To You In A Plain Brown Wrapper, in reference to an ambiguous parcel containing either narcotics, drug paraphernalia or possibly pornography.  The cover art was to feature exactly that as well, a plain brown wrapper marked ‘strictly personal’! 

This parcel was never delivered however, as the recording sessions came to a halt.  No reason was ever given, but it has been suggested that their label Buddha Records had pulled the plug out of disinterest.  A consolation was offered by the producer of the Plain Brown Wrapper sessions, Bob Krasnow, who convinced the band to rerecord some of the material and release it on his label Blue Thumb.  Recorded in April and May of 1968, Don & his crew recut the more ”commercial” tracks from the Fall 1967 sessions at a much more abbreviated length (“Mirror Man” was cut from the original 15 minutes down to 5!).  In a move that angered Beefheart fans for ages, Krasnow took the liberty himself (allegedly) to overdub numerous faux-psychedelic effects onto the newly-recorded album, even completely burying the mixes under unlistenable phasing.  The released album—Strictly Personal—was a commercial disaster and The Captain disowned the album, claiming the effects were added without his permission.  Some speculate that was untrue and Don had given his approval only to later turn on the album after its failure.  Either way, this folly of questionable truth is just simply a part of the Captain Beefheart mythos, as was everything else. 

After the critical success of the seminal experimental and Frank Zappa-produced rock album Trout Mask Replica (not to mention its respectable follow-up Lick My Decals Off Baby), Buddha Records wished to capitalize on Captain Beefheart’s renewed cult status and artistic credibility.  Going back to the original fall 1967 Plain Brown Wrapper tapes, they compiled a single-disc of material, primarily focusing on the extended live improvisations.  1971’s Mirror Man showed the world (or at least the few who were listening) what Strictly Personal was supposed to sound like, to some extent.  But it was not without its own short comings: not only was it merely half of the original Plain Brown Wrapper album, but it featured anachronistic cover art, improper musician credits and Buddha falsely claimed the album was recorded in one night in 1965! 

Years passed before fans were able to piece together the Plain Brown Wrapper album, beginning with questionably-legal British import I May Be Hungry But I Ain’t Weird in 1992.  Suffering from the same fate as other early Captain Beefheart CD reissues of poor mastering and use of inferior mastertapes, it wasn’t until 1999 when Buddha Records released The Mirror Man Sessions, essentially a properly-mastered Mirror Man with five outtakes from the Plain Brown Wrapper sessions included as bonus tracks.  Seven more outtakes (presumably the rest of the listenable material) were included as bonus tracks on their remaster of Safe As Milk.  Finally, Sundazed Records collected all the non-Mirror Man outtakes and one more additional track in their own vinyl-only 2008 reconstruction of It Comes To You in a Plain Brown Wrapper (which made no attempt to literally reconstruct the lost album, unlike my own reconstruction).

While all the pieces are now available to recreate It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper, we still have the task to wrap it all up as one.  The layout of my reconstruction was rather simple: each of the four sides would feature one of the lengthy live jam sessions, with one whole side following Side B of Strictly Personal as close as possible (giving one an alternate and more authentic take on the album).  I also used a pristine needledrop vinyl rip of Mirror Man by Euripides for those tracks, as it features the album’s original EQ and mastering parameters that has since been lost, deeper bass and crisper highs.  It is of note that the Sundazed vinyl utilized the same mastering as the 1999 Buddha remasters, so it was not used here as source material.  I also chose to exclude the instrumental tracks that Captain Beefheart had never gotten around to recording vocals for (“Big Black Baby Shoes”, “Flower Pot” and “Dirty Gene”), thus making a more finished-sounding album (although the instrumental “On Tomorrow” was used to mimic the tracklist for Strictly Personal).  The end result is eleven tracks that span two 45-minute discs and offer a purer Captain Beefheart album than Strictly Personal, with this effectively replacing it. 

Side A of my reconstruction begins with take 12 of “Trust Us” from the Safe As Milk remaster, selected over take 6 as take 12 featured vocal overdubs, suggesting it was the master take.  This is followed by the epic “Mirror Man” from Euripides’ vinyl rip of the album.  Side B begins with the reserved Delta Blues “Korn Ring Finger” from the Safe As Milk remaster, followed by “25th Century Quaker” from Euripides’ Mirror Man vinyl rip, concluding with take 12 of ”Safe as Milk” from The Mirror Man Sessions, again chosen over take 5 because of its vocal overdubs.

The second disc begins with the decidingly upbeat take 8 of “Moody Liz” from The Mirror Man Sessions (chosen over the overdub-less take 16 from Sundazed’s Plain Brown Wrapper) and the rest of the side C belongs to “Tarotplane” from Mirror Man.  The final side of the album attempts to offer an alternate, unadorned version of side B of Strictly Personal, beginning with the instrumental “On Tomorrow” from the Safe As Milk remaster, which is segued into “Beatle Bones n’ Smokin’ Stones” from The Mirror Man Sessions. The final descending bassline is hard edited into “Gimme Dat Harp Boy”, also from The Mirror Man Sessions.  The album concludes with possibly the most commercial track of the lot, “Kandy Korn” from Euripides’ vinyl rip of Mirror Man.  

Sources Used:
Mirror Man (Euripides vinyl rip, 1971 Buddha Records)
Safe As Milk (CD remaster, 1999 Buddha Records)
The Mirror Man Sessions (CD, 1999 Buddha Records)

flac --> wav --> editing in Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included