After the unpleasant listening experience from the last post, I’ve decided to go to my happy place. I’ve got a lot of happy places: Rush, Joni, AC/DC, Super Furry Animals, Opeth, The Meads of Asphodel, but when I really need to be happy I always crank out some Frank. And it just so happens that I have the perfect double live album to help me.
I was 16 when I was given a tape of side 3 and 4 of Roxy and Elsewhere (from Cheepnis onwards) by a girl I was infatuated with, and I was blown away (by the music, not the girl☹️). The musicianship, the humour, the Nixon line, those guitar solos! I’d bought and really loved Them Or Us and Tinseltown Rebellion a year earlier but I’d not had chance to sample Frank’s 70’s output, and this little hit made me ravenous for more. When I finally tracked down my own copy of the album (after wearing out the tape!), and heard sides 1 and 2, I was blown away again by the sheer joy and delight of the music.
Mid-70’s Zappa is probably my favourite era from him and this album shows you why. With a fantasticly tight band; Tom Fowler and Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey nailing down the complex rhythms, Ruth Underwood’s glorious percussion, Napoleon Murphy Brock’s vocals and sax playing (and laugh!) and George Duke’s supreme keyboard skills, all helped to bring a joy and pleasure to Frank’s music and, in my opinion, this era always sounds like Frank is having a lot of fun on onstage. There are many highlights on here: the craziness of Cheepnis, the blistering slow blues of Son of Orange County segueing effortlessly into Trouble Every Day with is scorching guitar work from Zappa to the wonderful Echidna’s Arf (Of You) and Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing, showcasing the band’s musical chops.
So is it excessive? No, only 1 of the 10 tracks is over 10 minutes and that’s the last track. The album flies by. Would I listen to it again? I listen to it at least once a month, so that’s a yes! Would I recommend it? Undoubtedly. It’s a great showcase of Zappa’s mix of jazz fusion, prog rock and humour. Is there a drum solo? No, there is a pretty good percussion/drum solo that’s warranted.
My final score for this is 8/10. I know I love this album, but I’ll always skip the track Dummy Up: a track that’s good on the first couple of listens but grates on repeated plays. Inversely, I used to hate the final track, Be-Bop Tango (of the Old Jazzmen’s Church), but the song grew on me on repeated listens. Overall, a very good start for our first (but not our last) encounter with Zappa in the 70’s. Keep safe and TTFN.