Category Archives: colored vinyl

Young Fresh Fellows • Toxic Youth (Back to the Egg) [LP, CD]

Record Store Day “Drop 3” is the last of the RSD 2020 triad that make up what would have been last April’s normal single-day event. One of the two records I am/was hoping to get is YOUNG FRESH FELLOWS’ Toxic Youth (or as it is also known, Back to the Egg). Recorded three years ago but only now seeing the light of day, it’s a great addition to the Fellows’ discography.

To start with, Toxic/Back is both a first and a last. It is, indeed, the first YFF record in eight years. Just as important, Youth/Egg is the last album recorded at Seattle’s legendary Egg Studio, the nest in which many Fellows releases were laid (or is that hatched?). The story is that in 2017 Conrad Uno, Egg’s patriarch (or is that rooster?), had decided to retire and close the studio, word got back to the Freshies, and they  booked one last weekend there before Egg went the way of the dodo bird. Since they’d gone in with just three songs and came out with seventeen, you’d be tempted to call it a success. Yet it took another three years for those results to show up on wax… was it delayed because of subpar quality? Band member Scott McCaughey’s stroke in late 2017??  Who knows??? One thing we do know: Once it finally got a release date – the original Record Store Day, April 2020 – Toxic Youth got delayed again thanks to that pesky coronavirus pandemic. Well, it’s finally out this Saturday (knock on wood) and it’s an honor to get to share my own opinions about it just slightly ahead of time.

As Mott The Hoople once said, rock ’n’ roll is a loser’s game, and it’s a game the Young Fresh Fellows have been winning (or is that losing?) for (gag! I feel old!) nearly 40 years. GULP. Regardless of, or despite their relative obscurity, from their very first outing back in the early ’80s, Seattle’s Fab Four have been creating kooky, clever cult rock for the masses – it’s just that the masses never got the memo. Too bad! Those of us who did get it, we got it. Whether it was with “Rock ’N’ Roll Pest Control,” “My Friend Ringo,” “Taco Wagon” or any number of other hooky, cheeky tunes, the Fellows could always be counted on for a great time.

Young Fresh Fellows say “Vote!”

Times changed throughout the Eighties and Nineties and though they didn’t exactly stay young they pretty much stayed fresh on their handful of sporadic releases. And that was okay with the fans. But when the YFF guys took on other projects (playing with their original groups [Fastbacks, for instance], playing with big name rock bands [R.E.M., for instance]), we lamented what we thought might be the end. So today we have Toxic Youth – I don’t really know what the title means – and I can tell you it’s a killer record! Opening with “November” and heading into quintessential Fellows stuff like “Never Had It Bad,” “Gear Summer 2013” with its ’60s organ, “Alien Overlords” and drummer Tad’s “Black Boots,” this release was worth the waits. THEN there’s Side 2 and that’s where Back to the Egg really fries! “She’s By Request” has this wobbly, eerie lead vocal from Scott, telling the story of of a late night TV encounter with some actress that I can’t figure out. I really like this one and figured it was gonna be my favorite on this toxic green vinyl record until I got to the grand finale, “Bleed Out.” OMG. This is like the YFFs detailing their own career and demise, explaining “I’m married to this life / Gave my body and soul / When I take the final knife I will bleed out rock and roll.” Yes, I honestly believe that Scott, Tad, Jim and Kurt will and DO bleed rock ’n’ roll.

If Toxic Youth/Back to the Egg were the final Young Fresh Fellows album you could truthfully say – based on this album alone, let alone Topsy Turvy or Totally Lost or Gleich Jetzt – they played a loser’s game and won. Cleaned up. Mopped the floor with almost every other band there ever was. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2722X, 2020)

P.S. – It may be a bit late in coming, but having known Conrad Uno of Egg Studio and Popllama Products fame for 30-something years – and having worked for and recorded with him at Egg myself – I’d like to thank you, Uno, for your contribution to the Seattle music scene and the rock ’n’ roll world at large. “What a humble guy.” Cheers! And say hi to Emily.

 

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NRBQ • In-Frequencies [CD, LP]

Just the fact that NRBQ has been around for over fifty years is pretty amazing. Can you believe they’ve never put out a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks? It’s true. In- Frequencies remedies that dour predicament with sixteen recordings that fell through the cracks (or were lucky enough to roll off the chopping block the first time around).

You’ve got to hand it to the ArQive 50 crew because they somehow put together a cohesive collection of tunes from a band that has never been able to settle on a style long enough for any rock critic – let alone fan – to pigeonhole them. As I have said in previous NRBQ reviews (and as any fan will attest), that’s a big part of what makes the Q so great. Why settle for one flavor of ice cream when you can have 31? In-Frequencies covers not only the various Q styles, but the different lineups of the band. There’s plenty of cuts representing the Big Al Anderson era, like “Let Me Tell You ’Bout My Girl” and a soundcheck recording of “It’s a Wild Weekend” that’s better than the album version, as well as a good helping of tracks from both the original and latest lineups. There’s also a cut by the legendary Dickens, “Sho’ Need Love,” which is not only super rare but has an awe-inspiring backstory (click here!) that you’ve got to check out. From the humorous (“Sourpuss”) to the super sweet (“April Showers”) to the just plain weird (an alternate version of “Everybody’s Smokin’”), it’s all here.

It’s highly likely that In-Frequencies is the first in a series, since it’s a sure thing that NRBQ has a lot more in the can than just a single CD’s worth. It might be wise to focus further volumes on, say, live cuts or the real out there material that was too Q for a standard album, if only to make those collections more pigeonhole-able than this one. Regardless, this single CD (also available on vinyl and limited edition colored vinyl) is a pretty good selection of rare NRBQ stuff for that rare fan who doesn’t have everything. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore OVCD-393, 2020)

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Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters • Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters [LP, CD]

Well, it sure is a mighty long title for an eponymous release. TONYA DONELLY AND THE PARKINGTON SISTERS’ new album of cover versions doesn’t have a clever title but it does have an interesting vibe/concept. I must confess a few things at the outset: I was a big fan of Belly, Donelly’s ’90s alternative rock band, back in the day; I was drawn to Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters due to that first confession and the track listing of this release; and, I had no idea who these Parkington Sisters were until I looked ’em up on the internet.

Donelly was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist with Belly, who put out one excellent album, Star, and a very good album, King, plus a host of compelling singles for 4AD Records (or Sire here in the States). The Parkington Sisters are Rose, Sara and Ariel (plus sometimes Lydia; I mean, she’s always a sister of theirs but not always in the group), and have been putting out light pop/indie music together since 2010. Donelly was approached by American Laundromat Records to make a covers album and decided that these Parkington Sisters would bring the right vocal and instrumental vibe to whatever songs got chosen, and so, here we are.

This 9-song excursion into other people’s music opens with a moody, violin-heavy version of The Go•Go’s album cut, “Automatic.” Already knowing that song gave me the idea that this might be an interesting album, with the songs included being mostly cunning and not cloying choices. (I’m very glad they didn’t go for “We Got the Beat”!) That’s followed by a Leonard Cohen tune I’m not very familiar with (actually, most of them fall in that category), “Dance Me to the End of Love.” Others are covers of songs by Echo & The Bunnymen (“Ocean Rain”), Crowded House (“Devil You Know”) and Mary Margaret O’Hara (“You Will Be Loved Again”). The ones I was more interested in were “Let Me Roll It,” first done by Paul McCartney & Wings on Band On The Run (1973), a more uptempo and electric tune than most of this album – and though it’s not one of Wings’ most obvious songs, it’s ultimately a safe – but enjoyable – choice. Two other covers I felt were definitely obvious choices. One is “Kid” by the Pretenders, though Donelly’s reasoning for choosing it makes sense: “[It] was [considered] actually on the heels of a conversation that we’d been having about children.” I initially would’ve gone for a Chrissie Hynde tune with a little more balls but then that wouldn’t have fit this lighter-vibed album (imagine “Tattooed Love Boys” with violins!). The other is The Kinks’ “Days,” a Ray Davies tune that is probably his most-covered song and definitely a no-brainer. I think Donelly could have given “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” or “See My Friends” a real go, though she’s the kind of singer who’s not going to cover a song if it doesn’t have a personal meaning to her, so maybe my choice doesn’t speak to her the way her choice does. What do I know? I’m just a rock critic. Finally, I do like the version of the Mike Nesmith song, “Different Drum,” first done and made into a hit by Linda Ronstadt when she was still with The Stone Poneys. It is kinda soft, true, but it’s a sweet song and it’s nice that Tanya and the Parkingtons wanted to pay tribute to Ronstadt.

American Laundromat is covering all the bases by offering this album in a variety of colored vinyl versions, as well as on CD and even cassette. You’ll have to go to the website to figure out what is still available and where.

Overall, Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters is a nice album, with light fare that’ll be great to put on at dinner and serve as enjoyable background music. That’s not meant to be a “dis,” just that, once you’ve given it a first listen it’s not gonna be a go-to album when you wanna rock out. Put it on when you want to relax, however, and it’ll be just fine. – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (American Laundromat ALR-0051, 2020)

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Pretenders • Live! At The Paradise Theater, Boston, 1980 [LP]

Once released as an LP sent to radio stations only as a promotional item to help sell the band’s debut album, Live! At The Paradise Theater, Boston, 1980 is PRETENDERS at their livest best. The show was recorded on March 23 of that year just a few months after Pretenders was released to critical acclaim. Already the band was touring the USA, and within a year or so they’d released a stop-gap EP and then their second full length, the imaginitively-titled Pretenders II. To say things seemed to be happening for them is an understatement – and yet that momentum came to a pretty swift halt soon after. The stories have been told elsewhere of how guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon went down the well-traveled drug death road that so many rockers have, so let’s just say there’s no telling what the band would have done had the original lineup stayed intact. Not that the Pretenders didn’t end up achieving a pretty solid career…

Anyway, for Record Store Day 2020 (Drop 1), Sire/Warner Bros. has issued that for-broadcast-only concert on a real cool clear/red vinyl LP that comes in a clear PVC cover*. The 11-song set list is made up primarily of tracks from the band’s first album, so you’ll hear “Precious,” “Kid,” “Mystery Achievement” and “Tattooed Love Boys,” for instance, and early versions of “Talk of the Town” and “Cuban Slide.” Recording-wise, Live! At The Paradise Theater is of a quality I’d call “better than soundboard,” as in it’s lacking some shimmer in the high end and could stand a little more bottom, but otherwise much better than if you’d taped it from the radio back in the day. Of course, big time (real?) Pretenders fans would have looked for a copy of the original promo release, but those are fairly rare and not exactly on the cheap side. So now RSD comes to the rescue – or to the delight of those who had no idea this item ever existed at all. I don’t tend to listen to live albums all that regularly, but this one I’ll put on more frequently than, say, this RSD’s live Bowie release (the 1974 tour recording, reviewed here). If you’ve been trying to hunt down that original release, it is time for you to stop all of your sobbing and grab one of these.

3.5/5 (Sire RCV1 114, 2020)   * Do yourself a favor and keep the record itself in a regular paper or audiophile sleeve; over time records get baked into PVC sleeves and become unplayable.

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The Kinks • The Kink Kronikles [2LP]

The Kink Kronikles is one of my favorite kompilations of any of those in my kollection. In 1972 THE KINKS had recently moved on from their original US record label, Reprise, to the hopefully greener pastures of RCA Records, so the wise guys in their former A&R department decided to put together a kollect… okay, I’m gonna stop with the “’k’ in place of ‘c’ thing” now… collection of a bunch of great singles and pair them with tracks – primarily B-sides – that they hadn’t yet released on album on this bounteous 2LP set, which has just been re-released for Record Store Day 2020.

One of the smarter things the label ever did was to draft rock critic and Kinks fan John Mendelsohn to not only compile the tracks, but annotate the package. What he put together, selection-wise, is an exemplary survey of what made the band so great. And his liner notes, which take up the entire inside of the gatefold cover, are an illustration of the fine art of putting someone on a pedestal and trying to knock them off of it at the same time. Mendelsohn’s twisted love of The Kinks is no secret (he later even penned a book about them), and neither was his sarcastic yet spot-on writing about rock music. They don’t make ’em like him anymore.

Remaining in Reprise’s catalog for many years, The Kink Kronikles was a valued 2LP set for the group’s hardcore US fans despite it being compiled and released without any input from the band. This, certainly, had been par for the course at Reprise. Just like The Beatles, The Stones and The Who – and pretty much all of the British bands – The Kinks had had their albums sliced ’n’ diced at will by the powers-that-had-been because those bozos presumably thought they knew better what would fly in the good ol’ US of A than their counterparts in the UK. And by that, I mean, you know, “We’ll cut a few songs from this 14-track album, take the tracks from some of the singles – hell! – even include a coupla tracks that were on the last album and bang! We got another way to make money off of these funny sounding English guys who probably won’t be around next year anyway.” The thing is, this compilation had so many sought after songs on it – lots of rare B-sides and songs lopped off their UK LPs – that the album became a pretty good seller, quite likely even cannibalizing sales of RCA’s current releases of new Kinks material (’71’s Muswell Hillbillies and ’72’s Everybody’s in Show-Biz).

I don’t have an original copy of The Kink Kronikles to compare this new Record Store Day version to, but it sounds pretty phenomenal, cats. Besides that, the collection itself is a great mix of familiar and obscure tracks. Sure, you get “Victoria,” “Days,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Lola” and “Sunny Afternoon,” but you also get once-super-hard to find goodies like “She’s Got Everything,” “Big Black Smoke,” “Mr. Pleasant,” “Berkeley Mews” and the then-unreleased “Did You See His Name?” There are 28 tracks here and they’re all worthwhile. Yes, today in 2020 they’ve pretty much all been added to the appropriate reissues of the band’s original albums, so if you’ve got the multi-CD sets of Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur or whatever, you have a good number of what’s here. But that’s no reason to pass on this limited edition, red vinyl reissue that’ll probably be deleted before you can say “Kinks reunion” for the umpteenth time. – Marsh Gooch

4.5/5 (Sanctuary BMGCAT436DLP, 2020)

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The Sensible Gray Cells • So Long (7″)

Being a huge fan of The Damned and its longtime guitarist Captain Sensible, I was pretty excited to see that the man’s originally one-off side project, THE SENSIBLE GRAY CELLS, was making a new record. “So Long” (b/w “What’s the Point of Andrew?”) is the lead single from the upcoming longplayer (called Get Back Into the World on the back of this single), and it’s a respectable 45.

The group, made up of Sensible, ex-/current-Damned bassplayer Paul Gray and Marty Parrott on drums, put out an album in 2013 called A Postcard from Britain (with a different drummer, Ant Thickett), and it was pretty good. Not great – in fact, I really wanted it to be much better. I wanted it to rock with punk exuberance like the best of The Damned, and to have the sense of humor and fun that the best of Captain Sensible’s solo records had. It was marginally close, but no cigar. This new single, a teaser for another LP, is again, pretty good. Not great – it does showcase the Captain’s standard political stance, which I generally agree with, but it just feels not quite finished. The song itself is a rockin’ number with a serviceable arrangement, but the lead vocal seems buried a bit and lacking what I’d call doneness (not sure it’s a word, but it is a button on my microwave oven). It’s lacking that exuberance and in-your-face delivery that makes a great single.

As this is a 7″ and I am likely to be reviewing its attendant LP, I’m keeping this short. “So Long” is enjoyable but I’d be inclined to play it a lot more if they give it a better mix for the album. I am asking, Sensible Gray Cells, for a better mix. As John Lennon (who was great, both dead and alive) once sang, “Don’t let me down!” – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Damaged Goods DAMGOOD538 [UK], 2020)

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The No Ones • The Great Lost No Ones Album [CD, LP]

I bet when you’re Peter Buck you don’t have to care too much about getting publicity on your new album. I mean, he was the guitarist in R.E.M. He knows his album’s gonna reach the people, one way or another. So it’s the reviewer’s job to know that it’s already come out and get on top of things. And, for Scott McCaughey, regardless of whether you’re known as the guy who started Young Fresh Fellows or The Minus Five, or that you were a sideman for R.E.M. and a member of Robyn Hitchcock‘s Venus 3, the word that you’ve started yet another band – called THE NO ONES – with the guy from R.E.M. will get around. Even during a worldwide coronavirus shut down (Volume 3, anyone?). So here we are: it’s already June 2020 and I’m just now getting around to reviewing The Great Lost No Ones Album, which was released in March. Had you heard about it? I had, but I clearly neglected my rock critic duties (hey, I don’t exactly get paid for this!) by waiting so long to tell you what I think about it. It’s almost as if I was trying to do my part, not review it, and let the album completely live up to its name.

The No Ones first got together as early as 2017 and are Buck, McCaughey (as in, the real McCaughey), Frode Strømstad and Arne Kjelsrud Mathisen, and they’ve recorded a powerful pure pop elpee that hearkens back to the days of old when practically all it took to put out a rock album was two guitars, bass, drums and some meaty-ass hooks. The Great Lost No Ones Album has all of that, plus the support of a mighty indie label and a captive (read: largely still home-based) audience. McCaughey’s the lead singer and as you’d expect if you’ve followed him for the last 30+ years, he has a great voice for this kind of music. What might make or break this great No Ones album for you is the degree to which it sounds like an R.E.M. record. (It doesn’t sound like R.E.M.) Those finding this album due to Buck’s membership in that band should consider that he was also a member of The Minus Five and this album is much closer to that vibe. For those of us who have tuned in to McCaughey’s projects since he fronted Seattle’s legendary (Young Fresh) Fellows, this may be the best record since Topsy Turvy. (My review on that classic ’80s indie album is right here.) I really like the single “Straight Into the Bridge” and “Dream Something Else” – the guitars on these songs are rippin’ (not sure who’s playing which parts) and sure to invite repeated listening sessions, whether in your car, your music room or your very own underground lair. Other songs do something similar, like “Sweet Home Mississippi,” “Clementine” or “Gone.” Really, you couldn’t ask for a much more engaging record to get into these days.

The Great Lost No Ones Album is available on both CD and LP, and vinyl lovers will thrill to the killer colored vinyl that’s available on initial orders. Not only is it a real beautiful yellow and purple 12″, but it features unique artwork and comes with a bonus 7″ (same colors in reverse) featuring two songs not on the album (or the CD). That vinyl version may or may not be available at this point – after all, I’m two months behind in reviewing this baby! – so I’d get on over to YepRoc’s web site pronto. I can’t tell you what those bonus tracks sound like (my order hasn’t arrived yet) but I wouldn’t worry. I’m sure they’ll be worthy of extra time on your turntable. – Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2718, 2020)

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Utopia • Deface the Music [LP]

My friend Steve once uttered, “You’re the only guy I know who, when he’s not listening to The Beatles, is listening to something that sounds just like The Beatles.” I don’t remember for sure what was playing in the car that day but it could very well have been UTOPIA’s Deface the Music. This 1980 album by Todd Rundgren’s rock group, an homage to the music of The Fab Four, sounds so much like Liverpool’s Finest that you could be forgiven for thinking it was some long lost long-player of theirs. Of course, it doesn’t sound exactly like them, but it’s an incredible simulation that’s close enough for many a Beatlemaniac to enjoy.

I’m not sure what the impetus for creating and releasing something like Deface the Music was. Perhaps Todd & Co. were feeling nostalgic for the music they grew up on, or maybe it was that, when one of the group’s songs was turned down for a soundtrack because it sounded too much like The Beatles, they decided to do an entire album of soundalike music for fun. I’d guess the record company thought it was a mistake for Utopia to put it out but – it being the beginning of the anything goes ’80s – it might just catch on. It’s not like The Beatles’ popularity had waned at all even ten years after they’d called it quits, considering the success of compilations like Rock ’N’ Roll Music and the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 best-ofs. Regardless of why they did it or why it was released, Utopia did Deface the Music and yet they actually didn’t deface it at all. From the opener “I Just Want to Touch You,” an “I Want to Hold Your Hand” parody, through “Take It Home” (a la “Day Tripper”), “Hoi Poloi,” the gentle “All Smiles” and closer “Everybody Else Is Wrong” (hello “Strawberry Fields Forever”), the album is a baker’s dozen of grin-inducing singles that may have even made the Mop Tops themselves smile. (Even if it was only with visions of suing for copyright infringement in their collective head.)

While Deface the Music is full of songs that sound like The Beatles, there are some clues that 100% homage wasn’t necessarily what Utopia had in mind. For one thing, the instrumentation that would have been strings in the ’60s is definitely played on late ’70s synths and so don’t sound authentic. Likewise, the production value (or what you could call the sound) is clearly of 1980 and not that warm but shimmery glimmer of Abbey Road circa ’66 or so. I always thought the mix was a bit murky and lacked some of that high end sizzle you’d expect, but this 2020 reissue, put out by Music On Vinyl from the Netherlands, nevertheless sounds really good. There’s no notation as to what the source material was for this limited edition vinyl pressing (MOV has never been clear about their sources), but Deface the Music sounds at least as good as an original US Bearsville/WB copy. If you’re a Beatles or Todd nut, you should have this one. Limited to 500 copies on silver vinyl (perhaps black wax will follow), this record is worth wrapping up and taking home. Or having delivered to your door by international courier. Or however the hell you can get it.

4/5 (Music On Vinyl MOVLP 2519, 2020)

 

 

 

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The Flaming Lips & Stardeath and White Dwarfs • The Dark Side of the Moon [LP]

[This review originally posted 4-23-10 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

Well, I have heard a number of different versions of Pink Floyd’s iconic The Dark Side of the Moon in my day, including a full-on reggae version, mon, and a tribute by local Seattle group The Squirrels, but this one really takes the cake. THE FLAMING LIPS (along with little brother band STARDEATH AND WHITE DWARFS) issued their version of it late last year via iTunes, and it has now been issued on a very limited vinyl+CD version (another Record Store Day treat) that is so cool it’s almost beyond words. And yet, that’s never stopped me before…

Wayne Coyne & Co. sorta did this on a dare, I guess, and it certainly paid off. Sure, super hardcore Floyd fans will be bothered by the weird blips and noises and other fucking-with the Lips did to this album, but really, don’t they think that when the original version of the album came out, that that’s exactly what 1973 rock fans thought it was? A bunch of weird blips, noises, and other fucking-with that the Floyd did just to mess with people’s minds? Like Devo did with the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” if you’re gonna cover something so well-known, why not give it a complete and utter facelift? That’s what I like best about this. I mean, I can’t say it’s better or worse than the original (or the reggae version or Squirrels version) because it’s meant to complement or at least be juxtaposed to the original. So I’ll say this: It’s definitely worth a download if you’re a fan of the original, just to hear what can be done with such a great album. If you really like it, you might want to try and hunt down this release, though that may be a difficult task. Getting that last remaining copy could involve taking a trip to, ummm, the dark side of the moon. Or at least eBay…  — Marsh Gooch
4/5 (Warner Bros. 523541-1, ltd. ed. 180-gram clear aqua vinyl+DVD, 2010)

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Frank Zappa • The Hot Rats Sessions [6CD Box Set]

Out of all the FRANK ZAPPA albums a newbie could start with, Hot Rats might not be the best choice. “It’s jazz,” I hear you cough. [Careful!] “Ick.” That’s what I thought the first time I heard it, anyway, back in the late ’70s after discovering Joe’s Garage and then The Mothers’ Fillmore East–June 1971. Besides one song with then-unknown-to-me Captain Beefheart kinda narrating, it was all instrumental and fairly difficult for my 16 year old music brain to comprehend. No humor – which does belong in music – no lyrics or singing, no obvious hooks for me to catch. Fast forward nearly forty years and 50-something year old me is, like, “This is a damn good album!” And now, at the landmark album’s 50th anniversary, there’s way more to get into than the original six cuts that made up Frank’s first proper solo album. The Hot Rats Sessions is a major box set, comprising six CDs, a nice book with lots of photos and notes about the sessions, a set of guitar picks and even a board game. Hot rats, indeed!

Hot Rats was the first non-Mothers of Invention record from Zappa – though a few Mothers played on it – if you don’t count Lumpy Gravy, which he wrote but didn’t play on, and the first time the guitarist/bandleader put something out generally lacking words. It was also, though, the first time his guitar soloing was given such a front seat, and that is something guitarists all over the world can dig, even if they can’t quite fathom the semi-jazz chord patterns or the soloing by violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris. (I’m not huge on that part, myself, though I am a fan of Harris’ early work as part of Don & Dewey.) Though Zappa is credited with the bulk of the playing on Hot Rats, Mother Ian Underwood played piano, organ, sax, clarinet and flute, and others played here and there on the sessions (Ron Selico, John Guerin, Jimmy Carl Black, Art Tripp III and Paul Humphrey on drums; John Balkin, Max Bennett, Roy Estrada and Shuggie Otis on bass; Bunk Gardner on sax; Harris on violin). Those sessions took place over a couple weeks in July 1969 with the finished LP released in October. With catchy (for jazz!) tunes like the tasty “Peaches En Regalia,” “Willie the Pimp” (which The Mothers did on Fillmore East), the sweet “Little Umbrellas” and others, it was yet another Zappa classic at the time – but who really knew what to make of it?

Well, now it’s available in super long form for all of us to figure out, and since many of us have so much time on our hands right now, there’s never been a better time to give it a try. The Hot Rats Sessions comes in a 12″ x 12″-ish box housing the six CDs in a gatefold LP-style folder, a 28-page book with notes from Underwood and Matt Groening (he did not play on these sessions!), and the aforementioned game, Zappa Land, which has a 12″ x 24″ board and many colorful game pieces. Needless to say you may want to make color copies of those so as not to destroy the value of this super deluxe box set! In all, there’s much to recommend this baby. Sure, some of the lengthy jamming may get tedious after awhile (though the 32-minute “Big Legs” is scintillating throughout*), and let’s face it: no matter how good a box set is, you’re only likely to dive into the deep end on rare occasions anyway. But if you really like your Rats Hot, you must partake. Find it on sale somewhere and dig in while the diggin’s good. — Marsh Gooch
* “Big Legs” in severely edited form is “The Gumbo Variations” on the final released album.

4/5 (Zappa Records ZR20032, 2019)

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