|Overture to "Uncle Sam"||15:16|
|Brown Shoes Don't Make It (remix)||7:27|
|Amnerika (vocal version)||3:10|
|"If I Was President..."||3:43|
|When The Lie's So Big (live)||3:38|
|America the Beautiful (live)||3:27|
When it rains, it pours. Having gotten used to a schedule of one, maybe two archival releases a year since Frank died, it's kind of shocking that the Zappa Family Trust decided to release three albums in two months, two of them on the same day! It may sound cruel to say it, but maybe now that Gail has passed on the floodgates are going to open. A Zappa fan can hope.
Anyway, despite this being by far the shortest of the three recent releases, practically an EP (Amazon is selling it for just over six bucks, woo!), and despite it containing a few previously released tracks, this is easily my favorite of the new albums for one simple reason - it features some honest to god, for-real, not a live version or slightly alternate version, brand new previously unheard Zappa music. I was starting to think there wasn't any more totally new stuff lurking in the vault.
Of course, the previously unheard music is mostly angular, avant, "difficult" synclavier music. But I'll definitely take it. I've kind of developed a taste over the years for even Frank's most experimental stuff, and if that's all that's left, I still want to hear it.
The first third of the album is taken up by the fifteen minute synclavier piece Overture to "Uncle Sam". Whether there was a longer piece called "Uncle Sam" we can only guess because sadly this CD has very little in the way of liner notes (just listings of recordings dates and personnel, and for some reason a fake $7 bill with Zappa's picture on it, issued by "The United Mutations"). So what does the Overture sound like? Listen to the most avant sounding stuff on Civilization, Phase III and you'll get the idea. It sounds similar to that, but there weren't any parts where I thought "that sounds exactly like song X" - it's clearly a new and unique composition. Just one that I'm going to have to hear a bunch of times before it starts to sink in. The liner notes date it to 1993, so it must have been one of the last things Frank was working on.
For track two, we jump from 1993 way back to 1969 for a remix of Brown Shoes Don't Make It. Where this remix comes from and who did the remixing is not specified. Why is this even here? Because this CD was released to coincide with the current build-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, so it includes some of Frank's most political tracks. To be honest, I've never been a big fan of this song (the child molestation parts really put me off, no matter what message Frank was trying to convey), so I could easily do without this track.
Did you know that there were lyrics for Amnerika? I didn't. Actually I might have read that on the old Zappa newsgroup at some point, but hearing it on an official release is a revelation. The music sounds a lot more primitive than the CP III version, and features Napoleon Murphy Brock's vocals. The lyrics reveal that the title is a combination of "America" and "amnesia", and the song is meant to be a criticism of the religious right. Come to think of it, there's a little bit of Amnerika on the Thing Fish album, so I'm wondering if this version dates from that era? Unfortunately the liner notes don't offer any clues or even give a recording year.
"If I was President..." starts out as an interview piece with Frank talking about what he'd do if elected. Soon some unreleased synclavier music rises up into the background while the interview continues. Frank's strategy for getting elected is a clever one - enter the race as an independent at the last possible moment, when the public is so sick of the two major parties slinging mud at each other and they'd be happy to have a third choice to vote for. Given the hatred that both Trump and Hillary have generated for each other, if Frank had lived long enough this could have been his year.
When The Lie's So Big has already been heard on the Broadway the Hard Way live album from the 1988 tour. I'm not sure if this is a new version (parts of it sound a little unfamiliar), but in general it's pretty similar to the previously released version. Once again, the liner notes could have been a little more helpful here.
Next we get another unreleased synclavier piece, Medieval Ensemble, this one recorded in 1985. Based on the title, I was expecting it to sound like fairly standard classical music (similar to the Francesco Zappa album), but it's just as scattershot and avant garde as the first track.
The album closes with another live track from the '88 tour - a surprisingly straightforward version of America the Beautiful. Seriously, this is not the type of song you'd expect Frank to play, or if he did you'd think he'd do it as a sarcastic, snarky version. But this is played straight and seems heartfelt. Kind of moving, actually.
So there you have it - what seems on the surface like a fairly "slight" grab bag of an album (two new songs, two remix/alternate versions, an interview clip, a previously released live song and a cover of a standard) released only to "cash in" (so to speak) on the election year turns out to be one of the more interesting Zappa releases of recent memory. Around 25 minutes of previously unreleased music (some of it with an interview over top), the surprise that Amnerika originally had lyrics, and a nice live version of America the Beautiful (which I had heard on bootleg before, but it's great having it on an official release with good sound quality).
Definitely a keeper, especially considering that it's currently being sold for about half of what most albums cost, even in this age where CDs keep getting cheaper as everyone switches over to digital downloads.