Frank Zappa - Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa (1996)

Black Napkins (live, 11/22/1975)   7:10
Black Napkins (Zoot Allures album version)   4:15
Zoot Allures (live, 2/5/1976) 15:45
Merely a Blues in A (live blues jam, 9/27/74)   7:27
Zoot Allures (Zoot Allures album version)   4:05
Watermelon in Easter Hay (live, early 1978)   6:42
Watermelon in Easter Hay (Joe's Garage album version)   8:42
 
Total Time: 54 min, 4 sec

This lavishly packaged disc is mostly for hard-core collectors, which is probably why it's only available through the Zappa Family web site (www.zappa.com). It comes in a tri-fold black cardboard case, with gold lettering designed by Matt Groening of Simpsons fame, and a fuzzy black replica of FZ's facial hair glued to the front. Inside, there's an inset photo of Zappa glaring at the camera, a gold lettered track listing, the disc itself in a plastic holder, and a pocket for the liner notes booklet. This kind of unnecessary excess doesn't come cheap - this release costs somewhere around the $20 range (plus exorbitant shipping), much to the annoyance of many fans who just wanted to hear the music. I should also mention that the glue holding the plastic disc case in place has already given up on my copy, and now when I pick it up the disc (case and all) falls out of the cardboard cover. In other words, don't buy this one just based on the elaborate packaging.

If you decide to bite the bullet and buy it, what you get is a showcase of the three tracks that Frank considered to be his signature guitar solos. In fact, the family has requested that cover bands avoid playing these three songs (thus the title of the album - implying that only FZ himself could play these songs correctly). The songs in question are Black Napkins, Zoot Allures and Watermelon in Easter Hay. The album contains two versions of each - the original album versions from Zoot Allures and Joe's Garage, and the earliest live performance that could be found in the tape vault. As an added bonus, there's also a live blues jam performed by the Roxy band in Paris.

In addition to the excessive packaging and high price, many fans were disappointed that the album features three previously-released tracks. Still, those three tracks only make up about a third of the disc. The 15+ minute live Zoot Allures alone makes the CD worth having if you're a big fan of Frank's guitar playing. The other new tracks are good too. It's interesting to hear how these songs developed from their initial solo ideas into the released versions. Which was probably the idea behind this disc (although if that's the case, why did they stick the blues jam in between to two versions of Zoot Allures, which breaks the flow and makes it hard to compare the two versions without having to reach for the skip button? Oh well).

The booklet includes recording information for all the tracks, as well as an analysis of his father's playing by Dweezil Zappa. High price and cheezy packaging aside, I get the feeling that this album really was meant as a loving tribute from a family that still misses Frank. If you're a serious Zappa collector or a big fan of his guitar skills, this one's worth picking up. Casual fans can probably skip it though.

Album Cover

Image of the Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa album cover