Review: Frank Zappa – Road Tapes Volume One

The Zappa Family Trust recently worked out a deal with Universal Music to release Frank Zappa’s back catalog on CD, many have been remastered using the original analog tapes. This marks the first time the catalog has been available since Rykodisc re-released the catalog in ’95, but none of the Ryko remixes are being used in the new batch. The new releases are also available on iTunes which should make Frank’s music more accessible to the next generation of freaks. All of these are good things.

Over the years Gail Zappa has also been throwing out special releases of her late husband’s work through the Family Trust’s own website, Barfko-Swill. Those releases have been very hit or miss. I have found that they are overpriced as well…48 dollars (plus shipping) for a three CD set!!?? Some are excellent documents of what the ever evolving musician was doing at the given time, but others offer slight variations of already released material. But the biggest complaint I have with Gail and the ZFT is their lack of information about their releases. The descriptions are usually one or two sentences with no real information at all…one never knows what is on the discs until the package arrives in the mailbox. Think of it as Zappa Roulette…sometimes you get lucky, but mostly you are just disappointed. These things are not so good.

So you can understand that when Gail announced that the ZFT was starting a new series called Road Tapes I was excited, but I tempered my excitement with extreme skepticism. True to form the only information you got from the website was an image of the cover and the following ‘description’…Get your ticket to ride! First stop Vancouver. House lights go down, Curtain goes up. You sit down and listen up. Get on the bus. You could make out from the cover picture that this road tape was from August 25, 1968 at Vancouver’s Kerrisdale Arena. No mention of track list, how it was recorded (multi-track, soundboard, audience tape), sound quality, how many discs are in the release…typical. But the price tag of 15 dollars got me to once again play Zappa Roulette.

I am glad I did. This may be my favorite release from the ZFT. The recording is an excellent soundboard recording in mono on this two CD set. Vocals can get a little ‘hot’ every once and a while, but for the most part they are well mic’d as are the instruments. In 1968 peace and love, hippies, straights, freak-out music was very much still the norm in rock music and this set should show everyone how far ahead of their piers Frank and the Mothers of Invention actually were. Beautiful powerful intricate music is presented right next to ‘freak-out’ showmanship and that might be followed up with a straight up reading of do-wop music.

The 20 minute sequence of ‘The Orange County Lumber Truck‘ is one of the highlights. This instrumental medley of some early MOI classic songs/themes is just so good. Frank’s guitar solo over the top of the tune is rock and roll perfection. In fact, all of the guitar work is sublime…just over look a few flubs here and there (hey, it is a live recording). Another highlight is the intro to ‘Help, I’m a Rock‘ that morphs into ‘Transylvania Boogie‘.

Frank’s deadpan wit is on display during the talk between the numbers. When I listened to this set I tried to imagine what the audience must have been thinking during this concert…it is just not your standard music of the day. Hell, the band covered a classical piece by Edgard Varese for the first encore…very much freak out music. I can only guess that the audience went away entertained, but some of them probably became fans for life.

The Zappa Family Trust picked a total winner to kick off this series. Keep the price affordable. Give me just a bit more information. And above all, keep giving the fans quality product like this. I can’t wait to see what is coming next.

Rated 4.5 out of 5

Road Tapes Volume 1: 25 August 1968, Kerrisdale Arena, Vancouver, B.C. (Zappa Records, 2012)

CD 1

  1. The Importance Of An Earnest Attempt (By Hand) (3:44)
  2. Help, I’m A Rock into
  3. Transylvania Boogie (9:30)
  4. Flopsmash Musics (4:50)
  5. Hungry Freaks, Daddy (3:59)
  6. The Orange County Lumber Truck (20:57)
  7. The Rewards Of A Career In Music (3:29)

CD 2

  1. Trouble Every Day (5:08)
  2. Shortly: Suite Exists Of Holiday In Berlin Full Blown (9:29)
  3. Pound For A Brown (3:13)
  4. Sleeping In A Jar (3:23)
  5. Oh, In The Sky (2:42)
  6. Octandre (7:40)
  7. King Kong (10:17)

About santasangreredux

Just a guy with a love of music, family and relaxing with a book.

Posted on November 25, 2012, in Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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