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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Frank Zappa

Roxy and Elsewhere

Review by Steve Alspach

Toward the end of the run of the Mothers of Invention, this 2-LP set was released. Only Zappa would have the -dare I say it? - Unmitigated audacity to release a live album with virtually all new material. But he did so here, and outside of a few overdubs, the music is all live and is impeccably recorded. Zappa had pretty much abandoned the avant-garde side to his music, so while he keeps his sense of humor intact, the music is most enjoyable.

The band at this point was: Frank Zappa, guitar and vocals; George Duke, keyboards and vocals; Tom Fowler, bass; Ruth Underwood, percussion; Jeff Simmons, rhythm guitar and vocals; Don Preston, synthesizer; Bruce Fowler, trombone; Walt Fowler, trumpet; Napoleon Murphy Brock, tenor sax, flute, and vocals; and Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey, drums.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Penguin in Bondage
The song is a blues-tinged piece with a burning Zappa guitar solo in the middle. The "preamble" is a rather humorous attempt by Zappa to describe the theme of the song (variations on THE ACT) in a way to, as he puts it, "keep us on TV."
Pygmy Twylyte
This is a 2:13 piece that sounds like it could have been developed more, but it works well as is.
Dummy Up
This is really a six-minute jam which turns into a comical dialogue between Zappa, Jeff Simmons, and Napoleon Murphy Brock in which Simmons takes a hit of a rolled-up sweat sock in a high-school diploma, and then a college degree with nothing inside. "A college degree will get you nothing" explains Zappa.
Village of the Sun
An homage to Palmdale, where Zappa grew up and turkey farmers abounded, Zappa has always had an acerbic edge to much of his lyrics, but this is rather toned down. This piece has a bit of "blue-eyed soul" a bit reminiscent of Todd Rundgren.
Echidna's Arf (Of You)
This instrumental shows Zappa's unmatched complexity in composition and arrangement. The song then morphs into a funk mode before going into its complex coda.
Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?
Perhaps the goofiest of the songs on this album, the piece begins with a start-and-stop main theme, but still finds room for that rarest of moments, a trombone solo that rocks, an electric piano solo from George Duke, and dueling drum solos from Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey. Zappa doesn't appear until 7:25 in the song.
Son of Orange County
This number borrows the words from "Oh No" (off Zappa's Weasels Ripped My Flesh), but in the context of 1974, and Zappa's acerbic "I am not a crook" pot-shot at then-President Nixon, this takes on an entirely different feel. The song gets to feature Zappa in one of his most familiar environments - soloing over a two-chord progression.
More Trouble Every Day
An addendum to "Trouble Every Day" (from the Mothers' debut, Freak Out), this is a slow-cooked bluesy burner. The song was copyrighted in 1965 which may date it with its lyrics about rioting. Zappa again gets a lengthy lead here, and a rarity for a song on a live album - a fade-out!
Be-Bop Tango (of the Old Jazzmen's Church)
"The cowbell as a sign of unbridled passion, ladies and gentlemen." Well, who knew? After a strange intro, Bruce Fowler gets in a trombone solo over a be-bop 6/8 rhythm. Then, a band-participation exhibition of the dance (and another famous Zappa-ism: "Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny") and an audience-participation segment, then after the introduction of the ex-wife of Zappa associate Dunt, the band goes into an Ornette Coleman-like free section, Zappa gets the rest of the audience involved in a dance over a 12-bar blues pattern.
 
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