Category Archives: vinyl

The Turtles • Original Album Reissues [2LP]

Manifesto Records, in conjunction with FloEdCo, have reissued THE TURTLES’ original albums from the ’60s and these are some real spiffy releases. All six of the band’s studio albums from 1965’s It Ain’t Me Babe up through Wooden Head (1970) are now available as 2LP sets that not only replicate the original artwork (although in gatefold form), but in the case of the first three albums give you both the mono and stereo mixes. (The final three albums feature the original stereo mix [they weren’t released in mono] on the first record and a second disc of bonus material.)

It Ain’t Me Babe and its 1966 followup, You Baby/Let Me Be, are quite similar to each other in terms of material and sound. From the the first, there’s obviously the single “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the Bob Dylan song that made for The Turtles’ first hit 45, as well as its followup, “Grim Reaper of Love,” an excellent song that at the time barely made the Top 100 (coming in at 81). From the band’s 1966 followup album were the singles that made up its title, “You Baby” (#20) and “Let Me Be” (#29), and the barely noticeable “Can I Get to Know You Better” (a sad #89). Another great pop tune – albeit with a morbid title – “Pall Bearing, Ball Bearing World” features on side two.Album three is where The Turtles really took off. Happy Together, though still similar to the previous pair of albums, was bolstered by two of their biggest singles. “Happy Together” really needs no introduction, it being a pure pop single that few people are strangers to even today. Penned by the team of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, who also wrote followup “She’d Rather Be With Me,” it’s got the quintessential Turtles tone that was somewhere between The Beach Boys, The Byrds and The Monkees. Twangy rhythm guitars? Yep. Tight harmonies? Yep. Bit of a sense of humor? Yep.

Next came The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, a 1968 concept album (for real) in which the band took on the personae of a host of different “bands” in conjunction with the various sounds on the vinyl. These bands all had different names, though they are all our beloved Turtles. Big hit “Elenore” is “by” Howie, Mark, Johny, Jim & Al, while “You Showed Me” (penned by Byrds Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark) is “by” Nature’s Children. There’s also Chief Kamanawanalea and his Royal Macadamia Nuts doing their theme song, “I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re the Royal Macadamia Nuts)”, as well as a number of other winners like the instrumental “Buzz Saw” “by” The Fabulous Dawgs and the Harry Nilsson/Chip Douglas title tune as attributed to The U.S. Teens Featuring Raoul.1969’s Turtle Soup was a real good album with a real odd choice of producer: The Kinks’ Ray Davies. Not really known as a producer (or even as the lead singer/songwriter for his own band here in the States), Davies nonetheless helped The Turtles come out with an album made up of all their own tunes, including the minor hit single “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain.” The album was their last all-new studio album, as Wooden Head from 1970 was made up of various Turtles tracks that hadn’t appeared on any of their previous longplayers. That being said, there are some classics here, including the band’s take on “We’ll Meet Again” and some tracks penned by band members Howard Kaylan and Al Nichol.

All of these albums were reissued on CD a couple of years ago (with the same track listings), and in the UK as 1LP vinyl (as part of a Record Store Day box set and later separately). My favorites here are Happy Together and The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, but all of them have great songs and sound real nice. As for the mono/stereo pairings, I don’t find much of a difference between the different mixes (though they are, in fact, distinct from each other*). I guess picking up these 2LP sets will be down to how big of a Turtles lover you are and whether you’ve already got any of the recent reissues. At least you can get them separately and fill in the cracks of your Turtles shell as necessary.

* Up through the late Sixties most albums were released in both mono and stereo, and frequently these were distinct mixes. However, some mono albums later in the decade were really “fold down” stereo mixes – that is, the two channels of the stereo mix summed together into one channel.

3/5 (Manifesto MFO 48041, 48042, 48043, 48044, 48045, 48046, 2020)

Tagged

Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks • Orange Crate Art [CD, LP]

Twenty five years ago BRIAN WILSON and VAN DYKE PARKS created Orange Crate Art, what we in the rock critic world would call a “sweeping” “song cycle” about the beauty and majesty of the state of California. This month the album is reissued as a very lush sounding 2CD set and for the first time on vinyl (on 2 LPs), and it sounds real pretty.

Those of you who’ve read even a few of my reviews know my typical MO and tone is often a little “humorous,” “sarcastic” and/or “what-have-you,” so you’d be excused for thinking that my use of the phrase “real pretty” might be meant to induce snickers or other similar results in the reader. In fact I’m being straight up with you. Not only is Orange Crate Art real pretty, the CD sounds amazing. (I can’t speak for the vinyl but I can guess it’s at least as good in analog as it is digitally.) I have it on good authority* that this version of the album was mastered for better dynamic range and with more respect to the music than the original, which, let’s face it, was put out in 1994 when neither Brian Wilson or Van Dyke Parks were probably a high priority with their record label. Omnivore is much more concerned about sound quality than Warner Bros. was at that time.

Orange Crate Art has a lush soundscape thanks to Van Dyke Parks’ beautiful melodies and arrangements, and – the reason for this pairing of pop titans – Brian Wilson’s vocals. They’re not all Brian, but much of it is, including the lead vocals and the main backing vox. Along with a stellar team of vocalists, Wilson and Parks have put together an album that is super pleasant right out of the gate and welcomes repeated listenings. Musically, it’s like a cross between The Beach Boys and the Gershwins. Lyrically, Parks’ lyrics bounce back ’n’ forth between cute, clever and corny, and that sometimes became a slight impediment to my enjoyment. But as stated above, I can be a bit curmudgeonly so it’s not surprising that something like that might bug me.

But basically, if you dug Parks’ pairing with Wilson’s Beach Boys and Smiley Smile/Smile, or the absolutely brilliant “Sail On, Sailor” (from the Boys’ 1973 Holland album), you will get a kick out of Orange Crate Art. Recorded in the mid ’90s when Brian’s voice was still what we think of as Brian’s voice, it is a thoroughly relaxing and smile-inducing album.

Format notes: Orange Crate Art is available as 2CD set that includes an entire second disc of the instrumental versions of the songs, a 2LP black vinyl set that splits the album up to four sides (preserving the ability to get as much info into the grooves as possible), and a super limited orange vinyl 2LP set that sold out almost immediately on Omnivore’s web site.

3.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-373, 2020)

* Mark Smotroff’s post on AudiophileReview.com is highly recommended for both a thorough review of the album and info about the mastering of this release.

Tagged ,

Neil Young • Homegrown [LP, CD]

“Homegrown is alright by me, homegrown is the way it should be…” If you remember this lil’ refrain then it’s safe to say you’ve been listening to NEIL YOUNG for a long time – or at least since 1977’s American Stars ’N’ Bars, the album it was first heard on. Now it’s featured on Homegrown, Neil’s “new” album that was originally recorded in the mid ’70s and was finally set for release in April 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic pushed Record Store Day back. It’s out now and like many of Young’s latest releases, there’s a bit of a back story.

Shelved in 1975 once he decided a lot of the subject matter was just a bit too personal, Homegrown is the latest in Neil’s Archive series of releases and it’s another good album from a man with way more music in him than we’ll probably ever know. If there’s any doubt about the vulnerability that may be on display, the opening track “Separate Ways” tells you that Neil had a lot on his young mind in late ’74 when these recordings commenced and from there the openness doesn’t let up much. “Try” definitely keeps it going, as does the now familiar “Love Is a Rose” (made a hit by Linda Ronstadt not long after this recording was made) and “Mexico,” which isn’t so much about that country as it is about the peace it would bring to the man’s mind. (Neil also visits “Kansas” and “Florida” – more about that state later.) In all, the album is mostly a low key affair that was absolutely worthy of release.

Primarily recorded in December 1974 (plus or minus six months), Homegrown would have followed On the Beach but was cut from the same cloth as ’72’s Harvest – and featured many of the same players. There’s just not a lot of the rock that Beach had, save for “Vacancy” on side two. A good half of the songs on the album, like the title track, “Love Is a Rose” and “Little Wing” eventually made their way to release on later albums (more about the songs’ destinations here), but these are the original recordings and they make up a pretty cohesive album. Are there tracks on here that we could have lived without? Well, yeah! It’s Neil. I’d be pretty safe in saying “Florida,” with its stoned narrative and wine glass rubbing, could’ve been relegated to a rarities record of some sort. Yet that’s about the only one out of a dozen songs here that misses the mark so it’s good that Neil decided to finally put out Homegrown intact. I mean, at this point, he’s released so much great material that in years to come it’ll be pretty hard to separate the stems ’n’ seeds from his bountiful harvest. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) Of course, Young releases so many albums these days – of both new material and old – that it’d be easy for the good ones to get lost among them all, but it would be just as easy for the not-so-good ones to get lost, too, so you really gotta check them all out, decide for yourself, and I don’t know, maybe use a post-it note to indicate to yourself which ones you’d want to hear again. I bet this one would be in that category.

Homegrown is available on CD and vinyl, with independent record stores receiving the vinyl that comes with a print of the cover art (which is limited).

3/5 (for Neil) (Reprise 093624898689, 2020)

 

 

 

Tagged

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.

3.5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2718, 2020)

Tagged , , ,

Moby Grape • Moby Grape Live [CD, LP]

[This review was originally published 5/20/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

The first official live release from the original lineup of San Francisco’s legendary, infamous, underrated, greatest rock band, MOBY GRAPE, is not the live album we’ve all been waiting for. Moby Grape Live is a collection of songs recorded before festival crowds and less between ’66 and ’69, and there are some incendiary performances here. But there’s something missing, something that would have given this release that little push over the cliff that would have made it a must-have classic. Maybe it’s context…

For one thing, the disc (or 2LP set) is made up of songs from four different shows, recorded mostly in mono (not that that matters) from soundboards and the like, so the sound quality’s decent but not great. The final cut, “Dark Magic,” is from New Year’s Eve 1966 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Fran, and is fabled for never having appeared on any of the Grape’s albums. It’s also a long one (that’s getting rather personal, isn’t it?), at 17+ minutes, but it’s a good jam and was probably quite awesome if you were on LSD or something when you heard it. I was on a Diet Pepsi, and I still got a kick out of it. There are also two versions of “Omaha,” one from the Monterey Pop Festival (’67) and one from a Netherlands broadcast in 1969 (and that one is KILLER). I also really dig “I Am Not Willing” (originally from the studio album ’69) with its heavy guitar attack and longer, more rockin’ arrangement. But as I said, something’s missing.

Is what’s missing a tuner for the one guitar on the Netherlands cuts that is nearly unbearably out of tune? Is it the not-quite-as-tight-as-I’d-have-it-ness of the playing? Is it just the lack of suitable drugs to make me understand what it was all about? (I was barely 4 years old in 1967…) Or is it all of the above? Well, that all being said [or asked –ed.], this is a live album worth having, especially if you already like Moby Grape. If you don’t know them yet and you’re trying to figure out where to start, this isn’t the place. Get Moby Grape, their debut from ’67, and then proceed to Wow and ’69. Sundazed’s The Place and The Time from last year is also a good one, a double album with lots of different flavors. And if you’re a vinyl lover, note: You can get this on 2LP black vinyl or ultra cool 2LP purple vinyl, but really, the cost doubles from CD to vinyl and doubles again from black to purple wax, so you’ll want to dip your toe in before you cannonball.

3/5 (Sundazed LP-5314, 2010)

Tagged

The Rolling Stones • Exile on Main Street [CD, LP]

[This review was originally published 5/18/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

Here’s a reissue I don’t mind picking up, if only because it’s one I haven’t already bought fifteen times in my life. A very rockin’ album by THE ROLLING STONES, Exile On Main Street was originally released in ’72 and is now out again in multiple formats. I just saw a guy at my local loaded up with all the versions they had in stock: 1CD, 2CD, 2LP and the Deluxe Edition that has 2CDs, 2LPs, a DVD, a book, and probably the deed to Keef’s French mansion. Well, it should, for $150!

Most people know this album as the one with “Tumblin’ Dice,” “Happy” and “All Down the Line,” but don’t forget there are many other good ones here, including “Just Wanna See His Face,” “Stop Breaking Down,” and the one that wins my award for best song title, “Turd on the Run.” What’s great about this record is that it’s not as excessive as you’d expect – double albums can be awfully long – and there aren’t any real clunkers, from “Rocks Off” to “Soul Survivor.” The band takes on some different styles and really comes into their own, no longer copying everything The Beatles did, but doing their own thing. Now, I can’t vouch for the bonus tracks on the 2CD version (except “Plundered My Soul,” which I previewed when it came out on Record Store Day as a 7″), so you’re on your own there. Let your conscience (or wallet) be your guide. But I can say that I like this album in its original form quite a bit. Maybe not as much as Sticky Fingers, personally, but hey hey, what can you do?* BTW, the double vinyl sounds sweet but doesn’t come with the original postcards.  — Marsh Gooch
[*Wrong band, dude. That’s Zeppelin.]

4/5 (Rolling Stones/UMe B0014203-01, 2010)

Tagged

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)

 

 

 

Tagged ,

The Velvet Underground • 1969 Live with Lou Reed, Vols. 1 & 2 [LP]

[This review originally posted 4/22/10 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

Another reissue on account of Record Store Day 2010, 1969 Live with Lou Reed comes in two separate volumes, both on vinyl only. These 180-gram pressings are very nice, with deluxe gatefold covers, handy black insert to protect you and the kiddies from the DRAWING of the closeup of a lady’s tight behind on the cover, and are sealed for added security.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND had splintered by 1969 and their initial glory was waning, thanks to all sorts of reasons. In fact, the dubious birth of these two live releases, stemming from shows in Dallas and San Francisco in the fall of ’69, is only the start—by the time these actually came out in 1974 the band had already disappeared. The quality of the recordings is pretty good, though, apparently having been done by some hardcore VU fans with decent gear. The playing is a little less exciting. I’m not sure if this is quintessentially what one of the band’s shows sounded like or not, having been but a wee boy of six at the time, but I can see how some people wonder what all that hot fuss is about. Now, before you scream “SACRILEGE!” and hold your fingers up in a cross at me, let me just say that I think Lou Reed’s songwriting is really something else. I can appreciate the band for many reasons; unfortunately, there are some pretty good reasons why they’re not in my Top Ten. For starters: Nico. Good God, Andy Warhol, what in the hell were you thinking? I don’t care how good looking she was, that woman couldn’t sing her way out of a wet paper bag. Put her in a fucking go-go cage without a mic and she’s alright, but please don’t let her sing. Second: Lou’s singing. This man isn’t God’s gift to vocals, either. And this is coming from a guy who likes Elvis Costello! Third: Guitars are almost always out of tune, even on the studio albums. Having bitched that, I don’t dislike the Velvets.

But enough of my Marty DiBergi-esque yakkin’! These two live albums, containing songs from the two aforementioned shows, are a great document of the band at the time. The song selection is quite good, too, even featuring some that Lou would go on to record solo, plus a nice cross section of the band’s discography up to that time. Big fans may already have these, true, but the nice pressings are worth the cost, Volume 1 is on white vinyl, and they’re supposedly quite limited. So if you see ’em, pick ’em up. Disregard my comments if you have no idea what I could be talking about, and if you, like, totally dig what I’m puttin’ down, then leave ’em for those who will appreciate them more.  — Marsh Gooch
3/5 (Mercury/ORG ORG-036 and ORG-037, 2010)

Tagged ,

Various • I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3 [2LP]

[This review was originally published 4/14/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc]

A few weeks ago I reviewed Urgh! A Music War and noted that my favorite compilation of all time is I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3. And so, dear friends, I must at long last give you a short review of said favorite so you can better understand my psychosis.

This 2LP variety pack came out in 1981, the year of my graduation from high school. At that time I still hadn’t discovered “new wave” or “punk” or “post punk” or “whatever handy genre name is making the rounds this week.” Once I started doing radio at my college station, KCMU, I came across our review item. It had a cool cover—all these broken up records—which appealed to my 18 year old sensibility (I only had one then). First song on the album is “Cold Cold Shoes” by The Fleshtones: a nice little organ-driven raver. Next song, “Ain’t That a Shame” by Brian James, whoever he was, and not the one Cheap Trick covered on At Budokan. Another great song, and it turned out this guy had been in The Damned, who open side two with “Wait for the Blackout.” Now here was manna from, ummm, well not heaven I guess, but manna nonetheless. I LOVE THIS SONG. Almost thirty years after I first heard this song, I still think of it as Numero Uno among The Damned’s many fine records. (And you probably know by now that they are my favorite band of all time, above The Beatles, above The Clash, above The Shaggs.) Where most compilation albums would falter, this one stays the course throughout four sides! “Straighten Out” was my first dose of The Stranglers and it had very interesting subject matter. “Urban Kids” by Chelsea—throbbing punk. “Uranium Rock” by The Cramps—nice lo-fi rockabilly, great song, a cover of the old Warren Smith tune. Humans’ “I Live in the City” had a great old saying on it (“If you’re gonna act like that/you better get on the stage”) and was a tough slice of life for a country girl in the city. Now let’s head over to sides three and four…

“Fallout” was the first single by The Police, and at the time, had not been released here in the States. Did you know they were actually PUNK ROCK once? Yup. Tom Robinson’s Sector 27 does “Can’t Keep Away,” Jools Holland (years before his MC stint on the BBC) does an old R&B tune in a rockabilly manner (“Mess Around”), plus The Fall, Oingo Boingo, Buzzcocks, Klark Kent (on leave from The Police) and more*, all submitting great tunes that at that time had only appeared here in the USA as expensive import singles (if that).

I discovered so many future favorite bands on this record! It’s too bad they can’t put this thing out on CD now (it all fits on one), since the rights to these tunes are probably spread out all over the globe and would prove to be a real pain in the John Keister to track down. If you want a good listen at what all those above-named genres were like in the early ’80s before MTV, hunt this down, and kill it. — Marsh Gooch
* Henry Badowski, Alternative TV, Squeeze, Skafish (awesome!), John Cale, Payola$, Patrick D. Martin, Wazmo Nariz, Fashion.
5/5 (IRS Records, 1981; out of print)
(Top image is the later US cover; bottom image is the original US cover.)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

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)

Tagged
%d bloggers like this: