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The story behind Beefheart's 1971 "Mirror Man" LP and this 1999 CD reissue runs to a few pages of convoluted shenanigans - but here goes at a potted explanation so that you know what you're dealing with.

First up - when the US vinyl LP Buddah BDS 5077 was released in May 1971 in a die-cut gatefold sleeve with only 4-tracks (Buddah 2365 002 in the UK) - "Tarot Plane" (19:00) and "Kandy Korn" (8:00) on Side 1 and "25th Century Quaker" (8:59) and "Mirror Man" (19:00) on Side 2 - the liner notes erroneously claimed that the album was live material 'recorded one night in Los Angeles in 1965' – perhaps in some club - which just wasn't true.

Beefheart and his gang of four (see band names below) had gone into TTG Studios in LA in October 1967 and recorded three tracks 'live' in the studio with further rough studio sessions taking place in November. Buddah didn't like what they heard and put the whole project on indefinite hold. They then sent the Captain and his boys over to England (where they were more popular) to be championed by a true fan - BBC Radio 1's most famous DJ John Peel. Some of the songs and sessions were added to, remixed and so on and came out on the second official album "Strictly Personal" in October 1968.

Time passed and with the November 1969 double-album "Trout Mask Replica" and a new LP on Reprise Records in "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" from January 1971 all gaining traction - someone went back into the vaults and chose the above four mentioned tracks to clump together as a new album on Buddah Records - "Mirror Man". Apparently Beefheart knew nothing of its release and as the songs were 'unfinished' or 'crude' – he remained somewhat ambivalent towards their merits - decrying it as some critics had initially done - then being ok with it as the LPs heavy-blues-jam rep began to build over the following years – some even saying it was as good as his blistering and accessible "Safe As Milk" debut from November 1967.

Whilst researching a new release in 1991 - England's Sequel Records went into the vaults once again and subsequently found and reissued more of the previously unissued session tracks - calling their 11-track January 1992 CD compilation "I May Be Hungry But I'm Sure Not Weird – The Alternative Captain Beefheart" on Sequel NEX CD 215 (Barcode 5023224121523).

Which brings us via a circuitous route and several mushroom pies to June 1999 and this new BMG 'Buddha Records' CD reissue of nine tracks (note the deliberately inverted spelling on the last two letters of Buddah). As the liner notes advise - due to time constrictions you get the original four songs of the "Mirror Man" LP and five additional outtakes - all stripped of unnecessary overdubs and as close as Buddha feel they can get to the Captain's original vision. Here are the in-depth details...

UK released September 1999 (June 1999 in the USA) – "The Mirror Man Sessions" by CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and HIS MAGIC BAND on BMG/Buddha Records 74321 69174 2 (Barcode 743216917426) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster of nine tracks that plays out as follows (76:23 minutes):

1. Tarotplane (19:08 minutes)
2. 25th Century Quaker (9:51 minutes)
3. Mirror Man (15:47 minutes)
4. Kandy Man (8:07 minutes)
5. Trust Us (Take 6) (7:06 minutes)
6. Safe As Milk (Take 12) (5:01 minutes)
7. Beatle Bones N' Smokin' Stones (3:11 minutes)
8. Moody Liz (Take 8) (4:34 minutes)
9. Gimme Dat Harp Boy (3:31 minutes)

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART (Don Van Vliet) - Vocals, Harmonica and Shinei

In the 12-page liner notes JOHN PLATT (with thanks to Mike Barnes) finally makes available the convoluted history of these amazing recordings - the 'Wrapper' sessions as they're sometimes called (Beefheart wanted the "Strictly Personal" album in a plain brown wrapper envelope sleeve). There are some classy black and white photos of the boys looking suitably Avant Garde and about to upset your Aunty Mavis with some discordant meanderings. You get in-depth reissue credits and the 'One Nest Rolls After Another', and the 'I Like The Way The Doo Dads Fly' poems reproduced. The CD label and inlay beneath the see-through tray mirror that shattered glass effect of the sleeve.

But while all that explanation sorts things out somewhat - what I want to concentrate on is the amazing new Audio brought to us by ELLIOTT FEDERMAN that was done over at New York's SAJE Sound Studios. The LPs were always being accused of being 'muddy' and some excuses were forthcoming because the takes were 'one' and 'live in the studio'. Suddenly even that gruff harmonica warble that opens up the nineteen-minute monster that is "Tarotplane" sounds unbelievably 'right' - like the power has been given back to the gruff. And as Beefheart growls with his 'on your mind' string of consciousness - those vocals are so damn good and those harmonica stretches punchy and mean. This sucker grooves - the band digging into that chug - and even if the recordings are a bit rough around the frothy gills - I'd argue this CD has made the performance feel alive and better for it. Nice work done...

You could argue that the three lengthy grooves here are merely Blues Jams with jerky Avant Garde Jazz rhythms as a side-order that should have stayed in the can or even been refined into something neater and better. Knob I say. When you listen to "25th Century Quaker" and you're grooving to those clear as a bell cymbal and drums crashes, those moaning notes as the Captain mumbles into his Harmonica - I can't imagine any way these could have been 'edited' into something tighter or better. Indulgent I know but it can also be argued that their very expansiveness is their joy. And would we want that mad ending to "Quaker" any other way. And don't get me started on the fantastic groove his ensemble get on "Mirror Man" - the kind of sound no other band could have achieved. I played it to my 22-year guitar-mad son the other day and he was transfixed - and not that just with the 'sound' coming out of my B&Ws - but at the playing and the sheer sonic wallop The Magic Band achieved and seemingly without even trying.

Lean and mean and unbelievably tight – Take 12 of "25th Century Quaker" hits you with a wall of voices and that stabbing guitar beat and it has awesome remastered sound. Don’t really like "Take Us" no matter what Take it is. We go all ‘strawberry mouth and butterfly’ with the Japanese-sounding "Beatle Bones N’ Smokin’ Stones" where the Captain seems to taking a sideways jab at the Liverpudlians and their Forever Fields. The dark – the day – the light – don’t you just love that voice and that sheer bat crazy mentality – and again beautifully remastered. God help us all but "Moody Liz" even sounds vaguely commercial (love those vocal harmonies). And "Gimme Dat Harp Boy" sounds like a piece of harmonica genius that have should been released as a single just to annoy the neighbours...

Hand me down a top hat, a feather boa and a Shriner’s Fez – I can feel a Captain Beefheart moment looming in my sequined ball gown and wraparound underpants. Of course "The Mirror Man Sessions" is not going to be a sonic soundscape everyone wants to go picnicking in. But if you’re down with the mighty hamburger – you’ll be loving it like a guilty pleasure you need to hide from the wife...
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on 24 June 2007
From 1967 to 1972 Captain Beefheart released what is, to my mind, the greatest run of releases by any artist ever. Safe As Milk, Strictly Personal, Trout Mask Replica, Lick My Decals off Baby, Clear Spot and the Spotlight Kid comprise four classics and two of merely great status. Had the material which features on the Mirror Man Sessions been released at the time of Strictly Personal, the number of classics would have been increased to five. The history behind the release of Stricly Personal in 1968 and Mirror Man in 1971 is explained in the informative liner notes to this release and I shall leave you to read for yourselves if you are not already familiar.

However, what you need to know is that the nine songs which comprise the Mirror Man Sessions are utterly brilliant and constitute obscenely good value at 80 minutes for £5. Moreover they are completely different in sound and structure from both 1967's Safe As Milk and 1969's Trout Mask Replica. "Tarrotplane" is probably the highlight, a near twenty minute blues juggernaut far more uniform in tempo, key, time signature than Trout Mask Replica which showcases musicians at the hight of their powers (as a number of people have commented, the Magic Band were one of the few none-reggae artists to merit investment in serious bass amplifiers. The versions of Trust Us and Safe as Milk better those on Strictly Personal and showcase Beefheart at his most direct. The way the guitars engage nearly two minutes into "Trust Us" leading the whole band to open up nearly rivals "Big Eyed Beans from Venus" in sheer dynamic attack. Accessible and like nothing else at the time, with these recordings Beefheart and the Magic Band shamed so many blues revivalists in their mastery and interpretation of the idiom. Why the Mirror Man Sessions is not as acclaimed as it should be is a mystery. Trout Mask Replica's infamy is well deserved and "Safe as Milk" and "The Clear Spot" might be the best entry points but the Mirror Man Sessions remains a crucial part of the Magic Band's legacy. Gimme dat harp boy.
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on 29 August 2008
To my old chum Paul Harisson, when we started to discover the pure music that is Captain beefheart? Not as arhythmic as Troutmask or as overproduced as the still-wonderful Strictly personal ( and how I wish i hadn't swapped the divers-bell gatefold album for Led Zep II), but the first time that I realised there was music inside strange sounds, and outside of the bubblegum crap that was, and still is, most popular music.

So with mind-boggling circularity I bought this album on a recommendation based on the recommendation of my much younger self. And they say Philip K Dick is all fiction.

So we know from other reviews that the first four tracks are the original album, but how is this version? well, first off, as this is most liikely the only one you are going to get, GET IT because the content is amazing, but compared to the original, un-remastered, vinyl, I can't help thinking that it has lost some depth, some purity, and picked up some hint of electronic jangle. And this ironic as Beefheart as much as anyone suffered from having his work over-produced or re-edited once he had leftit with the company or in the vault, legendary tussles and contractual silences ensued.
Or maybe it is the passage of time, wear on my poor ears and the weight of experience on my once innocent and receptive mind, but I Don't thonk so: wharfedale speakers are still at the business end of my system.

So you can start here, if you wish, then move to The Spotlight Kid and Clear Spot, then jump straight to Doc at the radar Station and Ice Cream for Crow, then retire to the Mojave desert knowing that you have listened to some of the greatest musical art that this world has to offer.
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on 8 August 2007
Captains Beefheart's Mirror Man is a long album that contains some of the heaviest and most blues orientated songs he ever wrote. Originally released in 1971 but recorded much earlier, and with only the first four songs, this release benefits from several extra tracks; mainly from the Strictly Personal sessions. The re-mastering is really top notch and everything comes out sounding nice and clean; well, the quality of sound that is. As always the music presented here is anything but nice and clean.

`Tarotplane' is a long, and I mean long, bluesy type track where you can expect to encounter some of the swampiest sounding guitars ever heard and with Beefheart howling some of his most absurd lyrics ever. At twenty minutes though you do have to be in a special kind of mood for it, along with `Mirror Man', so I've discovered that this album works quite well as background music... if you're insane.
The songs `Kandy Korn' and `25th Century Quaker' are the two highlights of the original album. `25th Century Quaker' starts of with one of his best riffs, a really simple tune that does sound pretty 25th century, though not quite as futuristic as `My Human Gets Me Blues' or `Big Eyed Beans from Venus'. `Kandy Korn' is probably the best one though, with its weird changes in tempo and style, going from soft to heavy at the flick of a switch and its long instrumental sections.

You also get a version of `Trust Us' which, while good, isn't as good as the version presented on the re-mastered `Safe as Milk'. You do get the best version of `Safe as Milk' the song though, and some of the other extra tracks are pretty good too. Overall, it is a good album that every Beefheart fan should own, but it's probably my least listened to of his albums.
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on 29 March 2004
This album (or at least the original vinyl LP) was my introduction to Cpt Beefheart. My chum Paul Rossetti said "turn the bass up full" so I did. Until I discovered reggae a few years later, it was the only music that made sub-woofers worthwhile.
This CD contains the vinyl's original 4 tracks, plus more from the same recording sessions. The jazz & blues progressions intertwine mischievously, sometimes luminous and sometimes impenetrable. As opposed to the shorter compositions on virtually all their other official releases, live and studio, these are rare examples of how the Magic Band could stretch and compress, fall apart and coalesce, explode and repress, focus and digress.
But are they really jamming? As with all Beefheart, you never know how much was actually improvisation, because the maestro was known to encourage and persuade his musicians to rehearse the most astonishingly adventurous lines until the most unlikely of musical structures could be repeated note-for-note over and over again. "Tarotplane" and "Mirror Man" SOUND improvised in places, so that's good enough for me.
If you don't relish the tightly-crafted song packages that make up Troutmask Replica, the illusory freeform of Mirror Man could be your introduction to the amazing world of Don Van Vliet.
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on 20 June 2014
Trout Mask Replica, the Captain's epic 1969 release, is original and brilliant in its own surreal way, but this album, with faux-improvised pieces and live cuts of earlier songs from Strictly Personal, is a lot more engaging, blues-y and enjoyable.
Despite having 9 tracks to Trout Mask's 28, it's almost as long and shows the Magic Band at a time when experimentation and talent were in perfect sync.
'Tarotplane' is an awesome 20-minute jam, bringing the Captain's voice and harp to the fore in a piece that reminds me of free jazz or long, rambling pieces by Canned Heat and other blues leaders.
The longer 'live' versions of Gimme Dat Harp Boy, Mirror Man, Kandy Korn, Beatle Bones 'n Smoking Stones are even better than the studio originals of Strictly Personal, and the whole band seems to comes together much better to deliver lengthier jams of those, with John French's stuttering drums giving the new tracks a whole new atmosphere and rougher, 'realer' feel.
Beefheart's growl (and blues harp, and reed trumpet he borrowed from Ornette Coleman) is perfectly supported by the Band's
instrumental work, and the lyrics have a much more ad-libbed feel to them that adds rather than detracts.
Tarotplane and Mirror Man are the most substantial-play them through decent speakers and you'll feel every hair stand on end.
It's the most accessible work, yet still pretty far out- it draws onthe Captain's favourites of Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf and the other greats and looks forward to the craziness of Bat Chain Puller and Shiny Beast in the strange syncopation and messing about with the microphone.
Beefheart never came back to the blues, but this album is the best goodbye he could have produced.
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on 3 October 2007
I've given this a little time to sink in, but I'm afraid I'm still unsure of what to think about it. I'm really only starting out on my discovery of the works of Captain Beefheart, so my review isn't going to be informed by a knowledge of all his work, but I will try my best to give you my impressions. And I'm not going to give you the brief history of the record. All the other reviewers seem to have done that already, and I'm sure anyone interested in the Captain already knows. I did.

This record is er... extremely percussive. To listen to it feels almost like being punched repeatedly on both temples at the same time. And it is sonically very flat. That isn't a complaint - I actually love the scope of sound and the music Beefheart gets from his guitar players without using fancy effects.

On the first 3 (and very long) tracks the guitars drone and tinker in spite of each other, the bass booms and bounces and the drums trip and tap and roll (and are too quiet in the mix)... with little approaching a recognisable structure in sight. I've heard this record described as the Captain's bluesiest. I'm not so sure. Safe As Milk seems more influenced by the groove and swing of the blues to me. Sure, there are blues elements here, but this music is just SO complex! It doesn't create a trance-like effect by the use of repeated figures, it does it by playing slightly different figures for 15-20 minutes. It's so difficult to absorb!

I do find it quite fascinating though. It's such a departure from it's predecessor (Safe As Milk). On Safe As Milk every note, every sound was absolutely necessary, was absolutely perfect in composition and placement. There was nothing in any of those songs that wasn't needed. In contrast, Mirror Man makes me wonder. These songs must have been hell to learn. Did the Captain REALLY make his band learn these songs note for note? Tarotplane? 20+ minutes of music that is constantly changing, but only slightly?! I just wonder... why?

Now, I'm sure he had a reason. I don't doubt for a moment that Beefheart is a genius. He just decided to go in the complete opposite direction to what he went in on Safe As Milk. I'm just not sure it makes for a great listening experience. It takes a little too much hard work. Sure, I know I'll hear something different in these tunes every time I listen to them... but part of that will only because there's so damn much to notice!

In case you're confused, I've only discussed the first 3 tracks so far. I'll just finish this section by saying that in amongst these long pieces there are a few moments of absolute genius - usually in the Captain's vocal performance.

And so onto the rest of the tracks. The rest of the tracks are easier to appreciate. They don't swing like the Safe As Milk album, but they are just as imaginative. And if you think the Safe As Milk album is too weird... these will be way too weird for you.

Kandy Korn is terrific, and good fun. The extended instrumental section at the end is fascinating. The version of Trust Us isn't quite as good as the one on the extended edition of Safe As Milk, but it's very good nonetheless. Conversely, the version of Safe As Milk is better than the one that is a bonus track on the album of the same name.

I don't have anything specific to say about Beatle Bones or Moody Liz, but nevertheless, they are pretty impressive, and again, fascinating examples of music the like of which I've never heard before. Gimme Dat Harp Boy is good too, however the first half of it's bluesy riff is very similar to Spoonful, a song covered by Cream. That pales it a little for me. Gimme Dat Harp Boy is better though.

Additional: I've had a lot more chance to absorb this record now, and would just like to add a couple of things. I still pretty much stand by what I've said about it, but I do have to say that I appreciate this record more the more I listen to it. It's radical departure from the music of Safe As Milk makes more sense to me since I've become familiar with Trout Mask Replica. I do find however, that The Mirror Man Sessions works best when playing it on random. Since the album was never actually conceived in this particular form, I can only conclude that the tracks have been sequenced in the wrong order. I find that having to listen to the 18 minute "Tarotplane" first often puts me off - it seems to dominate the whole record - and I get a much better feeling as a whole when I can listen to the songs in a context divorced from this sequencing.
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on 29 March 2004
The very same CD is actually available as a UK release, including all the extra remastered tracks featured on this more expensive import. The UK version loses nothing in terms of production values or sound quality. I've reviewed the music for the UK release. Do yourself a favour - read the review, then buy this astonishing and (for Beefheart) accessible masterpiece of swirling 60's jazz-blues.
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on 11 September 2001
Worth it for the first four tracks which are quite unlike anything before or after. The first track "Tarotplane" is 20 minutes plus and has moments that will make your hairs stand on end. It is worth the price of the cd just for this so along. Listen to it my words cannot do it justice. The next three are als excellent with two extended versions of Kandy Korn and Mirror Man and Twenty Fifth Century Quaker. These tracks are the bulk of the album and how the album was originally released. Of the rest, most are already available on "Safe as Milk" of the ones that aren't there is a version of "Beatle bones and Smoking Stones" but it is still worth buying Strictly Personal as a companion piece to this awesome album.
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VINE VOICEon 19 August 2010
Actually trying to score a review for a Beefheart album is almost impossible, like trying to explain to the unititiated why Trout Mask Replica is so good when to a lot of folk it can sound like a bunch of nutters bashing pots and pans.

I believe, but am not certain, that the Mirror Man sessions were put together around the same time as Safe as Milk, but effectively formed a more cult like status. I am fairly sure that there is a double CD release that includes the two.

Anyway, what you get is classic Beefheart, taking you on a weird and wonderful journey through swampish blues and the inner mind of a real artisan.

A couple of the songs are very long indeed and do seems to meander, but at the end, it is Beefheart and any explanations of the whys and wherefores of what he did are just lost on the faithful.

Beefheart is an icon that deserves every bit of praise heaped upon him and his cohorts from that time. How we need someone like that today.
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