Frank Zappa - Joe's Camouflage (recorded August, 1975, released January 2014)

Phynoix (Take 1) 2:28
T'mershi Duween 2:28
Reeny Ra 4:13
"Who Do You Think You Are" 1:39
"Slack 'Em All Down" 1:25
Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me 4:16
The Illinois Enema Bandit 6:26
Sleep Dirt - In Rehearsal 1:08
Black Napkins 8:12
Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance 1:55
Denny & Froggy Relate 0:31
"Choose Your Foot" 1:19
Any Downers 6:11
Phynoix (Take 2) 4:18
"I Heard a Note" 1:19
Total Time:    47 minutes, 48 seconds

As has unfortunately become the norm for posthumous Zappa releases, information about this album is really hard to find, and the cryptic, pointless liner notes included with the disc don't help at all. From what I've been able to gather, this CD documents a band that Frank assembled in 1975, but which only got as far as the rehearsal stage and never actually toured or recorded an album. Which is a shame, because the music here is pretty amazing. Fortunately guitarist Denny Walley decided to record some of the rehearsal sessions, and the result is this album.

The band was comprised of Zappa as bandleader, composer, guitarist and vocalist backed by the aforementioned Denny Walley on guitar and vocals, Robert "Frog" Camarena (one of the members of the "real" Reuben and the Jets band) on vocals and guitar and a woman named Novi Novag on viola, keyboards and vocals. The rest of the band was filled out by some well-known Zappa regulars: Napoleon Murphy Brock on tenor sax, flute and vocals, Roy Estrada on bass and Terry Bozzio on drums. For some reason Andre Lewis is given "special mention" in the liner notes as keyboardist and vocalist - I don't know if that means he's actually on this recording or not. He doesn't seem to be in the promotional photo included in the booklet.

The recording sounds surprisingly good for a quick and dirty tape of a rehearsal session. You can hear all the instruments pretty clearly, with the bass really standing out loudest in the mix, and there's hardly any distortion. The vocals are sometimes hard to hear - I get the feeling most of the band didn't have vocal microphones.

The album begins with Phynoix, a previously unreleased song with a title that's an intentional misspelling of the city Phoenix. It sounds like a sort of introductory fanfare, with a marching beat similar to Regyptian Strut. The song makes a reappearance at the end of the disc, with a more fleshed-out (and nearly twice as long) "Take 2".

T'Mershi Duween sounds very different from other versions that have been released. It's taken at a fairly relaxed pace, and has kind of a countrified bouce to the rhythm. Then, about half-way through, it suddenly picks up speed and launches into a shuffle rhythm. Neat. On my first couple listens, I didn't even realize that Reeny Ra was a seperate song because it segues out of T'Mershi so cleanly. Musically, its in the same style, but the lyrics are just the band singing nonsense like "Reeny-reeny-ra-da-da-da-da". Right in the middle it goes into a blues jam for a minute or two. So far this album has unearthed some real tasty nuggets.

That comes to a screeching halt with the next track though, in which Frank's kids apparently invade the studio and give the musicians a lot of attitude. I'm sure Gail thought it was really cute, but that part could have been easily edited out of the album. Even Frank sounds less than amused, because after a couple minutes of this, he mumbles something like "OK, you've talked on the microphone, now go away..." Following that, we get a couple minutes of Frank giving directions to his band, including slacking all the strings down, whatever that means.

The set list then turns to familiar territory for a couple songs, although the arrangement of Illinois Enema Bandit is slower and much bluesier than usual. It's kind of funny to hear Napoleon pronouncing the "s" at the end of Illinois, and in an interesting twist Frank had Novi do the voice of the bandit. While most of the songs here are complete, this one cuts off before the end because Frank wanted to lead the rest of the band through the vocal harmonies a few times.

The version of Sleep Dirt that's included is sadly just a brief, abbreviated version of the backing guitar pattern - I'm not sure who's playing it. The drums and bass come in towards the end, but it stumbles to a stop very quickly after that. Black Napkins stands out due to some beautiful (electric?) viola playing towards the beginning, and some cool keyboard sounds throughout.

As we get into the final stretch of the album, there's a reggae version of Take Your Clothes Off and then the oddity "Choose Your Foot", which features the band chanting the title over a pounding beat - it sounds like something that erupted spontaneously based on some inside joke. This version of Any Downers sounds like a rough draft - it's recognizable as the track from You Are What You Is but is a bit more blues-based and is more specifically about friends trying to bum drugs off of you. It could have gone by the title "Are You Holding?" as that seems to be the main line, while the drug being asked for changes from chorus to chorus.

The album ends with shades of Cops & Buns from The Lost Episodes as it seems that the recording session was shut down by the police due to noise complaints. This section is really low volume and hard to hear, but it sounds like Zappa says something about a guy who lives near the rehersal space complaining about the noise "at least once a month", and then theorizing that this individual must hang out near the back window of the rehersal hall, waiting until he can say "I heard a note!" and then calling the cops. Frank also tells the cops that they were planning on stopping around midnight, as if that's a perfectly reasonable time to be making loud noise (sorry, I've got noisy neighbors and a job where I have to get up at 5am, so I've got no sympathy for you, Frank).

If you're a serious Zappa fan (and if you're reading this, you probably are), then this album is well worth picking up. There are several songs you've heard before but the new arrangements and the previously unreleased material make this a must-have. It's probably the best of the "Joe's" series so far.

Album Cover

Image of the Joes's Camouflage album cover