|The GTOs - Permanent Damage||Jean-Luc Ponty - King Kong|
|Lowell George & the Factory - Lightning-Rod Man||Ruben and the Jets - For Real|
|L. Shanker - Touch Me There||Dweezil - My Mother is a Space Cadet|
|Dweezil Zappa - Havin' a Bad Day||An Evening With Wild Man Fischer|
|The Grandmothers - A Mother of an Anthology||Geronimo Black|
|Dweezil Zappa - My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama||Dweezil Zappa - Confessions|
|The Persuasions - Frankly A Capella||Edgar Varèse - Music Of|
|Chadbourne/Black - Locked in a Dutch Coffeeshop|
|Other Stuff||Return to Zappa Overview|
Listened to 12/6/99:
|The Eureka Springs Garbage Lady|
|Miss Pamela and Miss Sparky discuss STUFFED BRAS and some of their early gym class experiences|
|Who's Jim Sox?|
|Kansas and the BTO's|
|The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes|
|Wouldn't It Be Sad If There Were No Cones?|
|Do Me In Once And I'll Be Sad, Do Me In Twice And I'll Know Better (Circular Circulation)|
|The Moche Monster Review|
|I Have a Paintbrush In My Hands To Color A Triangle|
|Miss Christine's First Conversation With The Plaster Casters of Chicago|
|The Original GTO's|
|The Ghost Chained To The Past, Present, And Future (Shock Treatment)|
|Love on An Eleven Year Old Level|
|Miss Pamela's First Conversation With The Plaster Casters of Chicago|
|I'm In Love With The Ooo-Ooo Man|
This album is...interesting. Not good, mind you, but interesting. "GTOs" stands for "Girls Together Outrageously". The group was comprised of a bunch of girls that Zappa and his wife Gail knew. They decided to form a band, and got Frank to produce their album. The girls mostly just sing and talk, while the instruments are played by whoever they could drag into the studio. I can't find much information in the liner notes about who played what, so maybe the GTOs did play some of their own instruments, but they do mention that Jeff Beck, Nicky Hopkins, Frank Zappa and Don Preston play on various tracks.
The album is split into musical tracks, and Zappa's patented "documentary" tracks. The documentary stuff is probably the more interesting of the two, because it paints a pretty good picture of what it was like to hang out with rock bands in the 60s. It's mostly from a female point of view, but we also get to hear from a male groupie named Rodney Bingenheimer who later went on to become an LA area disc jockey (thanks to James Cohen for emailing me the correct spelling of Rodney's last name, as well as the update on his later activities).
The musical tracks are sort of like Captain Beefheart's music - it sounds pretty chaotic and...well...bad at first. After a few listens though, it kind of develops a logic of its own. Not that the GTO stuff is anywhere near as good as CB though.
Listened to 12/7/99:
|Idiot Bastard Son||4:00|
|Twenty Small Cigars||5:35|
|How Would You Like to Have a Head Like That||7:14|
|Music For Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra||19:20|
|America Drinks and Goes Home||2:39|
When Ponty appeared on Hot Rats, he and Frank must have hit it off, because within the year they were collaborating on this album. This friendship lasted for a while, with Ponty playing on other Zappa albums, but eventually there was a disagreement over royalties, and Zappa would later name Ponty as the one musician that he didn't enjoy working with.
With all but one of the tracks composed and arranged by Zappa (How Would You Like... is a Ponty composition), and several past and future members of the Mothers (Ian Underwood, George Duke, Arthur Tripp, and Ponty and Zappa themselves) performing on the album, this is practically a lost Mothers of Invention album.
This was one of the first "straight jazz" albums I ever bought, and when I first got it I really liked it. Some of that enthusiasm has worn off though, because now a lot of the album just sounds kinda "by the book" and dry to me, particularly Idiot Bastard Son and Twenty Small Cigars. I find Ponty's violin tone on the first three tracks to be downright grating an annoying, and his playing doesn't seem very inspired either.
Still, there's some great George Duke keyboard work, particularly at the beginning of the song King Kong. Plus there's a nice Zappa guitar solo towards the end of How Would You Like.... And this version of America Drinks... isfun, taking on a honky-tonk bar-band quality. I love it when the music suddenly comes to an abrupt stop and we hear one of the band members yell "solid, Jackson!".
But the main reason to buy the album is the massive Zappa composition Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra, which at the time was unavailable elsewhere. This is the chamber music Zappa at his best. The track would eventually be redone (with guitar replacing the violin) on Studio Tan, and parts of the song crop up elsewhere in the Zappa catalog, but the version here on King Kong is probably the most complete.
In the end, I'm not as wild about this album as many FZ fans are, but I agree that it definitely belongs in the collection of any serious Zappa fan.
I should have done this album first, but I kind of forgot about it. I'm not exactly sure when it was first released (the CD says 1996, but I'm sure there were previous issues). The music was mostly composed in the 1920s and 30s, with Poèm Électronique being created in 1958.
This music is far beyond my abilities as a reviewer, so I'm just going to give some personal opinions and otherwise stick to the facts. Personal opinion - I like this disc a lot, much more than I was expecting to. Zappa always claimed that Varèse's music was a huge influence on him, so maybe the years of listening to FZ prepared me for this disc.
Ionisation is an all percussion piece. It sounds surprisingly structured and "orchestral" for something played entirely by "pitchless" instruments. The FZ story behind this one is that the young Frank read an article in a magazine about how Sam Goody was such a great salesman, he could even sell this record called Ionisation, which was nothing but banging noises and sirens. Frank didn't care about Goody's sales abilities, but the description of that music sounded good to him so he made it his quest to find a Varèse album. The rest is history.
Density 21.5 is a solo flute piece. The title comes from the density of platinum, because the piece was originally written for a flautist named Georges Barrere, to inaugurate his new platinum flute. A beautiful, haunting piece of music.
After that, the next three tracks kind of blur together for me, with parts sounding a lot like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and other parts sounding very Zappaish. There's one section in there somewhere (I think it might be in Integrales) that I swear is quoted note-for-note in one of Zappa's orchestral pieces.
The final track is a musique concrète piece that was created for the Brussels World's Fair in 1958. A special building with twisting rooms and curved walls was built and outfitted with 400 loudspeakers to run Poèm Électronique along every surface. It must have been quite an experience - I wonder how many people of that time actually appreciated what they were hearing? The music itself is very ominous and creepy sounding, with chiming bells, scraping sounds, whistles, drilling noises and echoes all around. There are several sounds that, if this had been recorded 15 years later, I would swear were early synthesizers. There are also human voices making odd sounds, some of them amazingly similar to the "weird" noises the Zappa bandmembers would occasionally make on his albums. Very interesting piece, and way ahead of its time.
|Trail of Tears|
|We Don't Feed No Livestock Here|
|My Love Has Gone|
|Low Riding Man|
|Let Us Live|
|Big Boss Man|
|Motorhead's Bumble Bee|
|Thunderbuns Vs the Kumb Nut|
|The Fight Out|
|One For the Girls|
|Going to Idaho|
|A Bit Blue|
|Qualude to Chaos and Fine|
|Basement Theme Downstairs|
The Grandmothers aren't really a group - it's just the name for a loose collection of songs done by various early members of the Mothers of Invention, after leaving Frank's employ. Musicians involved are Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk and Buzz Gardner, Elliot Ingber, Ray Collins, Motorhead Sherwood and others. Not everyone plays on every track, but some songs come close to being "Mothers reunion" tracks. The songs range from covers to rock, blues and jazz tunes to some classical sounding pieces. There are even a few tracks that are pretty blatant attempts at appealing to the Zappa fanbase by "freaking out".
A lot of Zappa fans seem to be dismissive of, of not outright hostile towards, the Grandmothers. This may be because many of these ex-MOI members gave Frank grief and took him to court over royalty issues. And to be honest, this music isn't up to the same standards these musicians reached while working with Frank. But if you listen to the album on its own terms and don't try to compare it to Zappa's work, it's really not a bad disc. There are some beautiful tracks like Mary Jane and Dona, and some fun rock tunes like '59 Chevy, Teenage Credit, Big Boss Man and others.
The second half of the disc contains the attempts to imitate some of Zappa's weirder stuff. Thunderbuns... and The Fight Out are definitely strange but somewhat disappointing. One For the Girls, Qualude... and Basement Theme Downstairs are more interesting.
On a trivial note - the second to last track, Lovesick Blues, is what Jimmy Carl Black is singing in one of the JCB on the Bus tracks from the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series.
Since I got this disc used for $8, I'm quite happy with it. If you're interested in what the ex-members of the Mothers were up to in the late 60s and early 70s, try to find a copy of this Anthology. Be forewarned though that the sound quality on some tracks leaves a little to be desired. But it's all easily listenable.
|Low Ridin' Man|
|L.A. County Jail '59 C/S|
|Let Us Live|
|An American National Anthem|
|'59 Chevy (bonus track)|
This band was formed by Mothers drummer Jimmy Carl Black, and named after his son Geronimo. The band also featured ex-mother Bunk Gardner, as well as several non-Mothers who appeared on the Grandmothers Anthology. Actually, that's backwards - they appeared on this disc before the Anthology disc.
There's some overlap in the track listing between this disc and the Anthology - Low Ridin' Man, Let Us Live and '59 Chevy appear on both discs, but I believe they are different versions on each album.
The music on this disc is mostly straight-ahead rock and protest music, although many tracks are enhanced with nice horn section parts. There are also two beautiful instrumentals - Siesta and Quaker's Earthquake. These feature lead flute and oboe parts (respectively), plus acoustic guitar and even a string section. The first is very mellow and quite lovely, the second has a Baroque feel to it.
Nothing essential (unless you're a Zappa completist), but still a pretty good disc.
|Candy Cane Madness|
|Smile, Let Your Life Begin|
|The Loved One|
|No Place I'd Rather Be|
|Candy Cane Madness (live version)|
|Crack In Your Door|
|Teenage Nervous Breakdown|
Another compilation of material recorded in the 60s, but not released until the 90s.
Lowell George was briefly in the Mothers of Invention - he appears on the track Didja Get Any Onya? from Weasels Ripped My Flesh, and also on a track or two from the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series. This disc includes several tracks recorded as his audition for the Mothers. There are also tracks produced by Zappa, and a couple that Frank plays piano (!) on. Elliot Ingber and Ian Underwood also appear on a couple tracks. And if that's not enough Zappa links for you, then there's also the fact that Herb Cohen (The Mother's original manager) was also George's manager.
So, with all those links to the Mothers of Invention, this must be a great and very Zappaesque album, right? Well, according to the glowing (and very confusing) stream-of-consciousness liner notes, Lowell George was some kind of musical genius who broke down musical barriers and led an entire generation of musicians into new realms.
Unfortunately, the music on this disc doesn't come anywhere near to living up to the hype. It's pretty standard 60s psychedelic rock, nothing really to write home about. There are a few decent tunes, a few things that sound a bit like the Mothers, and some tunes that foreshadowed Lowell's next band Little Feat (Crack in the Door sounds a lot like a Feat song). But overall this is another album that should be left to the most hard-core of completists. Fortunately, I picked up a $6 used copy, and for that price I'm happy with it.
Listened to 12/8/99:
|If I Could Only Be Your Love Again||3:34|
|Dedicated to the One I Love||5:45|
|Show Me The Way To Your Heart||5:04|
|Mah Man Flash||2:38|
|All Nite Long||2:22|
This band came about when a vocalist named Ruben Guevara asked Zappa for permission to use the name "Ruben and the Jets" for a real-live doo-wop/50s rock band. Frank couldn't resist, and ended up becoming the producer for this album. He probably also had a hand in getting Mothers band member Motorhead Sherwood into the band, and recruited Jets slide guitarist Tony Duran for some of his own projects.
I wasn't expecting to like this album much, and in fact I probably wouldn't have bought it if I hadn't found a fairly cheap copy in a used CD store. But to my pleasant surprise, this is a fun little album that I like for the most part. I definitely prefer it to Cruising With Ruben and the Jets.
These guys loved this kind of music, and played it completely straight. The result is an album with some really catchy tunes - If I Could Be Your Love Again, Sparkie, Charlena (no relation to Zappa's Sharlena), Mah Man Flash, Spider Woman and All Nite Long are all great, mindless fun. There's also a smoking guitar solo on Dedicated to the One I Love that is rumored to have been played by Zappa himself (although he's not credited for it in the liner notes).
A few tracks (Wedding Bells in particular) get entirely too schmaltzy for my tastes though. Still, all in all a pretty good album.
Listened to 12/10/99:
|Dead Girls of London||5:23|
|Touch Me There||3:03|
|No More Mr. Nice Girl||8:16|
|Love Gone Away||3:33|
|Knee-Deep in Heaters||5:38|
I really like the violin playing that L. Shankar did on some of Frank's albums, and then one day I chanced across this CD in a record store in Maryland. For reasons I'm still not clear on, I didn't buy it. For years I regretted this, and then by lucky chance I stumbled across a copy at an Encore bookstore's going out of business sale. Needless to say, I snatched it, and I'm really glad I did because it's a great disc.
Zappa produced the album and wrote all the lyrics for it. I thought the opening track was a Zappa song (it appears on one of the Stage albums), but the music for it was actually written by Shankar. It's a decent rock song that mocks the "trendy" girls of London, but it's not one of my favorite tracks. The second song, Little Stinker is a ripping, high-energy jazz fusion piece, and probably my second favorite track on the disc. Really good. The title track is a slow, atmospheric piece that features a female vocalist inviting us to "touch me there, I like it". A good song, but it sounds like it was written for the soundtrack of a porn movie.
My favorite track of the album is No More Mr. Nice Girl, an instrumental collaboration between Shankar and Zappa. This rambling, upbeat piece is very catchy, and features some beautiful piano work. The rhythm section might be just a touch more discoish than it would be in a perfect world, but it's not nearly enough to ruin the song. Right at the end of the track there's a twiddly little melody laid on top of the song that sounds like it's straight off Uncle Meat.
After that we get a couple quiet, moody pieces, Love Gone Away and Windy Morning, with the more upbeat Darlene (featuring some beautiful acoustic guitar and violin work) in between. The final track is Knee-Deep in Heaters a laid-back reggae song with lyrics about heaters that seems kind of surreal on the surface, but could be interpreted as being about a musician trying to deal with the cold because he's too poor to afford a heated room. Shankar sings this last song himself, and his plaintive voice is perfect for it. I particularly like the lines "Just give me a bow and a string, and I will play you anything". Well, it sounds better when you hear him sing it.
If you find a copy of this one, grab it.
Listened to 12/13/99:
|My Mother is a Space Cadet||2:37|
I found a used vinyl copy of this for $4, so I picked it up. I'm not sure if the band's name is Dweezil or what, but that's all it says on the cover. It's basically an LP-sized single from Frank's son Dweezil's garage band, featuring a bunch of really young kids including Dweezil's sister Moon Unit on vocals. Even at this early age, the Dweez was a budding guitar shredder, playing heavy metal licks over music that is pretty much in line with the new wave movement of the time. The lyrics are just as surreal as you'd expect from the children of Frank Zappa. To be honest, the music sounds a little too professional - I wonder if these kids really played it or not. But still, it's probably not something that ever would have gotten released if the guitarist's father wasn't a famous rock musician with his own home studio and record label.
If you stumble across a cheap copy of this, it's worth having for novelty value, but don't go out of your way looking for it.
I don't have a track listing for this one, because the guy who CDRed it for me didn't provide one. The album is apparently long out of print and nearly impossible to find even on vinyl. It has an almost legendary reputation amongst Zappa fans, probably because most people have never heard it. Fischer (whose real first name was Larry) was a mentally unstable singer who FZ discovered singing songs on the street for spare change. Frank signed him to his Bizarre label and produced this double album. Wild Man's songs are generally short dittys sung in varying styles (usually varying from one line to the next, often as if multiple people were singing the song). Some of them seem like they could have possibly been hit singles if interpreted by a talented band. Others seem like the guy who came up with them must have been insane. This album features Larry singing his songs, mostly unaccompanied although a couple tracks have backing percussion and sometimes Fischer imitates different instruments with his vocals. There are also long "documentary" bits (like most of side one) where Fischer interacts with people on the street, offering to sing them songs for a dime and insisting that he's not insane. Side one ends with a lengthy, enthusiastic speech given by someone (Larry himself?) about how Wild Man Fischer is the new pop idol that the masses have been waiting for, how he's going to replace Elvis and the Beatles, and how the girls will all love him. In the end, this is an album that's worth hearing once for novelty value, although it's hard to make light of as Fischer clearly appears to have serious problems. I woudn't spend a huge amount of money on it or anything though.
Listened to 12/15/99:
|Havin' a Bad Day||4:09|
|Blonde Hair, Brown Nose||3:45|
|You Can't Ruin Me||5:24|
|The Pirate Song||3:53|
|You Can't Imagine||3:14|
|Let's Talk About It||4:06|
|I Want a Yacht||3:42|
|I Fell Like I Wanna Cry||4:30|
While he's probably never going to be considered the compositional genius that his father is, the young Dweezil managed to put together a pretty decent, guitar-oriented pop album. Of course it didn't hurt that Frank loaned him the rhythm section from his own band (Scott Thunes on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums), plus his recording studio and production skills.
There are a few good songs on here, such as the oddly named instrumental The Pirate Song and the footstomping instrumental Electric Hoedown (which sounds like Van Halen's Cathedral on speed). The comedy number I Want a Yacht, on which guest vocalist Bobcat Goldthwait caterwalls about how he wants a Yacht ("You gave Simon Le Bon a yacht! Come on, you gave Don Johnson a yacht!"), is also pretty entertaining.
Blond Hair, Brown Nose sounds like an attempt to do one of his father's patented social commentary tracks, but is only somewhat successful. The anti-nuclear weapons song Let's Talk About It is a little better. Moon Unit's vocals on You Can't Ruin Me are somewhat ironic, because they ruin the song. Well, maybe they're not that bad, but they're not good either.
I believe this album is long out of print, but if you can find a cheap used copy, it might be worth picking up. I think I actually prefer this early stuff to the later hard rock stuff that the Dweeze did, both with and without his brother Ahmet.
|Her Eyes Don't Follow Me|
|The Coolest Guy in the World|
|My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama|
|Comfort of Strangers|
|Bang Your Groove Thang|
|Your Money Or Your Life|
|Before I Get Old|
|When You're Near Me|
I don't think Frank had anything to do with this one. It was released on Chrysalis, not FZ's label, and there are no credits anywhere indicating that Frank or any members of his band had anything to do with this one. The music further bears that out...
Judging by the "sexy" photos of the Dweez used for the front and back cover of this album, I'm guessing that Dweezil was aiming to be the hot new pop metal guitar shredder. The music on the album confirms that - it's completely bland and predictable metal rock. Fans of Winger and Bon Jovi and those sorts of bands might have eaten this up, if they had any idea who Dweezil Zappa was. Personally, I find a most of the music on this one to be embarrassingly bad.
There are some nice touches. If you like that pop metal sort of thing, the cover of Frank's My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama isn't too terrible. And it's nice to hear Dweezil name Frank as one of the Coolest Guys in the World. He also attacks the PMRC in Before I Get Old. But other than that, most FZ fans would probably find this album pretty unlistenable.
Listened to 12/19/99:
|Anytime At All||1:50|
|Confessions of a Deprived Youth||3:15|
|Gotta Get To You||5:38|
|Pain of Love||5:30|
|Obviously Influenced by the Devil||6:51|
|Return of the Son of Shoogagoogagunga||6:45|
Dweezil's next solo album, this one is much better than My Guitar..., but still doesn't rise above mediocre hard rock for the most part. The fact that he returned to the Barking Pumpkin label for this album, and had two of his father's 1988 band (Scott Thunes and Mike Keneally) on the album is probably what makes it listenable.
The album kicks off with a faux-classical melody played on guitar, and then goes into the "save the planet" song, Earth. From there on out, the album becomes a collection of metal guitar riffs, variations on boy-meets-girl lyrics, and a couple of campy cover songs (the Beatles' Anytime At All is possibly the best song on the album. The BG's Stayin' Alive is one of the worst, despite - or possibly because of - having Donny Osmond on guest vocals, and a host of guest guitarists).
The instrumental Obviously Influenced by the Devil is OK, as is Shoogagoogagunga (which sounds an awful lot like the theme song to the Ben Stiller show, which Dweezil wrote and performed).
The album ends with a comedy number involving two young metal-head guitarists trying to impress each other with riffs, and showing their musical ignorance. They say "dude" a lot. A whole lot. This might actually be kind of funny, if it weren't coming at the end of an entire album of meatheaded metal riffs.
In summary, unless you were a big fan of 80s hard rock bands, this isn't an essential album. Even Zappa (or Keneally) completists don't really need to go out of their way to look for this one.
|Dropped Another Needle||4:18|
|Big Boss Man||5:14|
|Captain Beefheart Medley||17:56|
|Expense Account Meeting||1:19|
|Call to Opal||0:45|
|Dawn of the Living Dread||4:00|
|Prelude to Chili in Navajo Taco||2:16|
|Le Hippie Dogg||1:13|
I found this disc in a used CD store while on vacation, and all I can say is thank god I didn't pay full price for it. It has a couple good bits to it, such as the Neon Meate Dream of an Octafish section of the Captain Beefheart Medley (which is the only part of the disc recorded with a full band, including Don Preston - the rest of the album is just Eugene on banjo and vocals and Jimmy on drums). But the majority of the album is made up of sloppy playing, horribly out-of-tune banjo, meandering lyrics that are spoken more often than sung, lame covers of country songs, even lamer originals, pointless monologs and dialogs, poor recordings, jarring edits, and the occasional long stretch of just plain noise coming off the stage. This last element might have been entertaining if you could see what was generating the noise, but people listening to the CD are left clueless. Given the picture on the back of the liner notes (Black and Chadbourne holding up a big bag of dope), I'm guessing the recording of this disc was really just an excuse to tour around Europe for a while and party. I was a bit pissed, not that I spent eight bucks on this nearly worthless slab of plastic, but that I actually wasted an hour of my vacation listening to it.
|Any Way the Wind Blows||3:53|
|Electric Aunt Jemima||3:05|
|The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing||2:45|
|Hotplate Heaven at the Green Hotel||2:52|
|Love of my Life||3:09|
|You Are What You Is||4:12|
|Harder Than Your Husband||3:32|
|Find Her Finer||3:14|
|My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama||4:24|
|Tears Begin to Fall||3:46|
Zappa signed the a cappella singing group The Persuasions to his record label in 1969 and helped them record their first album. As their way of saying thanks, the group recorded this tribute to FZ 31 years later. As you may have picked up from my reviews, I tend to enjoy and focus on instruments and music more than vocals and lyrics. So I was kind of leery about buying an all-vocal CD, but positive reviews on the Zappa newsgroup convinced me to get it. I can enjoy this disc, taken in small doses (a few tracks at a time), but I don't think it'll ever be a favorite. The Persuasions are very good at what they do though, and even I can appreciate the incredible job they did converting the instrumental opening track to something singable. They enhance the lyrics by emulating instruments with their voices throughout the disc. And there are a few ex-Zappa musicians as guests, which also helps out - Bruce Fowler plays trumpet on Cheap Thrills, Robert "Don't call me Bobby" Martin lends his distinctive high vocals to Love of My Life, and Mike Keneally plays a bit of (acoustic?) guitar on My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama. All in all, this isn't a bad disc for fans of good singing and vocal harmonies, but in the end it's just a bit too much vocals for me.
Oh, in case you're wondering what the Interlude and Mystery tracks are about - interludes 1 and 3 are just a few seconds of odd, Zappaish vocals noises, and interlude 2 and the mystery track find the Persuasions inside the piano from Lumpy Gravy and Civilization Phase 3, philosophising and looking for Frank, who was there just a minute ago...
12/20/99 - I was hoping to have tomorrow to finish listening to Zappa-related material, but due to circumstances beyond my control I won't be near a computer tomorrow. So, here's a quick summary of some of the other stuff I was going to listen to:
Apocrypha - a four disc bootleg set that gathers together a lot of the best rare Zappa material. Hard-core tape collectors say that the sound quality on this set isn't the best it could be, and a lot of it has been taken off the "rare" list thanks to the release of The Lost Episodes and Mystery Disc, but there's still a lot of unreleased and hard-to-find stuff on this set. I have no idea where one would get a copy of this thing. After years of searching for it, I finally found someone who could make me a CDR copy. Unfortunately the CDRs have degraded to the point that they've become unplayable, so if anyone else out there can make me a copy, please get in touch.
Bruce Fowler - Ants Can Count. A solo album by the great horn player who played in many live Zappa bands. Some fantastic trombone work on this disc, and a circular breathing technique that has to be heard to be believed. If you like Zappa's serious/jazz side, you'll like this album.
Zoogz Rift - Villagers. After enduring Zoogz's constant flame wars on the Zappa newsgroup, which were stirred up for the sole purpose of creating publicity for his albums, I finally broke down and bought this CD when I found it in a used CD store. A lot of people think Zoogz is a genius on the level of Zappa, but I can't agree with that. There are a few interesting tracks here, but, well...let's just say that Zoogz is a legend in his own mind.
The Rudy Schwartz Project - Salmon Dave. Another album by an ex-regular of the Zappa newsgroup, I like this one a lot better. Perverted and with absolutely no respect for authority and an absolute hatred for organized religion, this album manages to be funny in the same spirit of a lot of Zappa's humor but even more outrageous and "graphic". I don't know if I'd say the music is as good as Zappa's, but I can say that I love this CD.
Z - Shampoohorn and Music For Pets. This was the band formed by Frank's sons Dweezil and Ahmet. It featured the talents of Mike Keneally, which means that these albums are a lot more listenable than Dweezil's solo albums. Still, the music is fairly bland metal rock for the most part. And the brothers were very disrespectful to Mike when he decided to leave the band because they kept putting any future projects on hold. They haven't shown any signs of releasing anything since, so I guess this band is history. If you can find these two discs cheap, they're worth picking up for a few tracks. Otherwise, you can safely skip these.
The Muffin Men - Say Cheese and Thank You and Mülm. This is a German rock band who have released several tribute albums of Zappa's music. I have these two. Say Cheese is pretty good, but the thin, tinny sound quality makes it hard for me to listen to. Mülm is much better, with good sound and enthusiastic performances, as well as featuring ex-Zappa vocalist Ike Willis (I love the way Ike says "Let's go!" as they head into the instrumental middle section of Easy Meat).
Warren Cuccurullo - Thanks 2 Frank. The ex-Zappa guitarist creates an album of Joe Satriani style solo guitar pieces. The general opinion of this one on the Zappa newsgroup seems to be fairly negative, but I really like it. The title track in particular (a bluesy tribute to Frank) is excellent, as is the Middle-Eastern sounding Hey, Zawinul.
The Ed Palermo Big Band - Plays the Music of Frank Zappa. A great big band jazz tribute to Frank. Includes a lot of FZ's best instrumental tunes. Palermo is a huge Zappa fanatic, and knows the music inside and out. I've seen this band perform live, and it's even better than the CD - catch them if you get a chance.
Ed Mann - Perfect World. A solo album from the ex-Zappa percussionist, featuring jazzy/new agey music. There is some good stuff on here, but overall I'm not that thrilled with this album.
Chad Wackerman - forty reasons. A jazz fusion solo album from the drummer for most of Zappa's 80s bands. Features Allan Holdsworth on guitar. Really good stuff.
Mike Keneally (and Beer For Dolphins) - Tar Tapes 1, Tar Tapes 2, Hat, Boil That Dust Speck, Half Alive in Hollywood, Sluggo, Nonkertompf, and the Soap Scum Remover video. Mike is (as you can tell) my favorite ex-Zappa musician. He was on Frank's final tour in 1988, and provided backing guitar, keyboards and vocals. Basically, Mike can do it all (as shown by his album Nonkertompf, on which he played all the instruments. Click the above link for my review). His solo material is great. My favorite is Boil That Dust Speck, which is a good place to start if you like dark, heavy albums. Most fans recommend Sluggo as the place to start, because it's a lot friendlier and more song-oriented. (Note: Since I wrote this Keneally entry, he's released a couple more albums, the song-oriented Dancing and the more avant Wooden Smoke. More albums are sure to follow. If you get a chance to hear Mike play, either live or on CD, go for it.)
Well, that's it, I'm out of time. Hope this page helps some Zappa fans find some new music.
Some more additions from January, 2002:
Harmonia - Harmonia Meets Zappa. Harmonia is a small (two men and one woman) Italian chamber group. On this album, they play Zappa pieces (and some originals inspired by Zappa) on clarinet, cello and piano, with some electronics thrown in here and there, and occasional guest musicians on flute, trumpet, trombone and bassoon. I'm pretty sure I hear some guitar here and there as well. The cover songs work remarkably well - this is definitely one of the best "rock covers performed on classical instruments" type albums I've ever heard. I think it's mostly the great piano playing that sells it for me. Particularly fantastic is the solo piano rendition of What's New In Baltimore. The album starts to drift off topic about mid-way through (and gets less interesting because of it), but I'd still definitely recommend this to anyone who likes Zappa music and small orchestral groups. For more info, see my review of the album at the Ground and Sky progressive rock review site.
Patrick O'Hearn - Mix-Up. This album confused me for the longest time, because I had read on the Zappa newsgroup that all of O'Hearn's solo albums were boring new age music. But since I found this for three bucks in a used CD store, I decided to give it a try and was surprised to find that most of the tracks have such a peppy beat to them that they border on dance music. In fact, one track even has some rapping in it. Not only that, but I actually kind of like most of the songs on this disc, particularly the three consecutive songs The Illusionist, Mixed Up, and Chatahochee Field Day. Really catchy stuff that still displays some of Patrick's bass chops. Finally one day I read the fine print and saw that all the tracks were remixed by various people (which explains the album title). Reading O'Hearn's entry in the All Music Guide confirmed that most of his albums are new-age, but he went for a more dance-oriented audience on this one by having songs from his previous album remixed with dance beats. Dance music and rap rank right up there with modern country on my list of least liked forms of music, but for some reason I like this album. Definitely worth the $3 it cost me, anyway.
Zappa's Universe - the soundtrack to a tribute concert put together for Frank shortly before he died. Mike Keneally was the prime mover behind this project, but he has subsequently disowned the CD that came out of it, due to poor editing decisions that were out of his hands. The disc does have a tendency to have annoying fade-outs, just as the band is going into an interesting new tune. Plus some of the better parts of the concerts weren't included on the CD, and some of the worst parts (like Dale Bozzio forgetting her lines) were. There was also a video put out from the concerts, and it is definitely preferrable to the CD (if for no other reason than it has more songs). Other musicians involved in the tribute were: Mats and Morgan, Scott Thunes, Marc Ziegenhagen, Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, Dale Bozzio and the vocal groups Rockapella and the Persuasions. Plus a small orchestra that went by the name "Orchestra of Our Time".
Dweezil Zappa - Automatic. The most recent solo offering from the Dweez (as of this writing in 2002), this album is mostly a Satriani-style guitar wankery showcase (and I don't mean that to necessarily be a bad thing). Also included are a few odd covers, and I do mean odd. I can understand how You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch came about, as brother Ahmet steals the show with his over-the-top vocals. But why the lackluster versions of the Hawaii Five-O theme and Habanera and Les Toreadors from the opera Carmen? Those, along with the novelty track Dick Cinnamon's Office smack of "filler" material, big time. Rumors that Dweezil was working on a new album had been floating around for a long time - maybe it got rushed out before it was really done. Which is a shame, because if those tracks had been replaced with something as strong as the rest of the disc, this would probably be the best thing Dweezil ever put out.
And a couple more additions from November, 2004:
Over the past few years, it seems that there has been increased interest from orchestral groups in performing Frank's music. I guess this is good news for those who would like to see Zappa's "serious" music be remembered and become part of the standard repertoire of orchestral ensembles. But it seems like those groups are as likely to do "classical" versions of FZ's rock music as they are to play his "orchestral" works. Often the lines are blurred. Anyway, here are a couple more albums you might want to check out, if you're into the orchestral ensemble thing:
Ensemble Ambrosius - The Zappa Album. Recorded in August, 1999 and released in 2000, this CD features seven young Swedish musicians who have banded together under the Ensemble Ambrosius name with the goal of playing music by modern composers on Baroque instruments. They started out as a few music school students playing Uncle Meat at a school concert on harpsichord and cello. From there the group expanded both their membership and the amount of Zappa music they played, eventually resulting in this CD. It received a lot of praise on the Zappa newsgroup when it first came out, and when I placed my order for QuAUDIOPHILIAc the web site I ordered from also had this disc, so I added it to the order. The music is better than I was expecting - Frank's tunes translate surprisingly well to oboe, glockenspiel, baroque violin, organ, harpsichord, dulcimer, bassoon, cello, etc. Some of the song choices are surprising, such as the synclavier piece Night School and the guitar vehicle Zoot Allures. Others are more predictable, like the piece that the Ensemble Modern proved was playable by humans so now everyone wants to cover, G-Spot Tornado (although the Ambrosius version is one of the less convincing versions that I've heard, since they take it at a slightly slow tempo). The high point of the disc for me comes towards the end when they launch into excellent versions of RDNZL, The Orange County Lumber Truck, Echidna's Arf (of You) and Inca Roads, which makes for a great 17 minutes of music. I wouldn't have thought anyone could pull off Inca Roads in particular on Baroque instruments, but this Ensemble proves me wrong.
Ensemble Modern - Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions. This disc had been in the works for a while, with the Ensemble Modern premiering their version of Greggery Peccary in concert as far back in 2000, but it took a couple years to get the music recorded, and then another couple years to get the legalities ironed out for this 2004 release. Just as they did on the Yellow Shark CD, the EM pretty much nail FZ's music, this time playing existing pieces from across Zappa's catalog rather than new music composed for them. Some of the tracks are synclavier pieces like A Pig With Wings and Put a Motor In Yourself, and for me those are the least interesting tracks because they sound pretty much exactly like the originals, so what's the point? Other tracks are covers of Zappa's rock band songs like Moggio and Peaches En Regalia, and those are interesting to hear done by such a talented and precise orchestral group. The centerpiece of the album though is the complete Adventures of Greggery Peccary, which covered an entire album side in its original version and runs over 21 minutes here. Definitely an interesting choice for an orchestral cover - the story of Greggery kept my daughter interested during a long car ride when I first got this CD. My only complaint is that the people who do the vocal parts are...well, not very good. Or at least they're not Zappa himself, which just makes those vocals sound wrong somehow. Lacking eyebrows. But overall this CD is a safe bet for Zappa fanatics, especially those who enjoyed the Yellow Shark and Everything is Healing Nicely albums.
Here's one I somehow overlooked, added to this page July 11th, 2007:
The Grandmothers - Who Could Imagine?. This CD came out in 1994, but I didn't pick it up until a decade later, when I found it cheap at a music festival. Apparently three members of the early Mothers of Invention (Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston and Bunk Gardner) teamed up with an Italian guitarist named Sandro Oliva and a bassist who went by the name of Ener Bladezipper (Roy Estrada?) and went on tour in Europe (I think) as The Grandmothers. This CD documents that tour, mostly with live performances of Zappa and Captain Beefheart songs, but also with some new compositions and with a few "documentary" tracks (the opening half-minute details Jimmy, Bunk and Don trying to get ahold of Roy on the phone after many attempts, and finally reaching him while he was on the toilet; another track tells part of the tale of one band member's brush with a ménage a trois). The performances are good to great, the new compositions are surprisingly good, the sound quality is decent for the most part and there's a big, big sense of humor behind the whole thing. It's definitely in the style of the early Mothers albums. Worth picking up if you can find it.
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