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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Frank Zappa

Hot Rats

Review by Gary Hill

This was Frank Zappa’s second solo album. Other than the second track, which has a short vocal from Captain Beefheart, all the songs are instrumental. This definitely has a lot of jazz built into it. It feels rather freeform at times, too. It is definitely Frank Zappa, though. This is not my favorite Zappa album, but I do like it a lot. I should mention that I reviewed the opening song previously on a compilation disc. For the sake of consistency, this track review has been drawn from that one.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Peaches en Regalia

This melodic instrumental is playful and fun. It also has a lot in common with Emerson Lake and Palmer and is certainly one that most prog purists won’t have a problem lumping into the “prog rock” genre. It still has plenty of Zappaisms and weirdness, though. There are definitely some musical passages that would feel at home on an ELP album. It also has a few sections that are nearly pure jazz.

Willie the Pimp
Starting with a prominent violin line, this works to a blues rock kind of romp. It’s suitably Zappafied. That eventually turns out to a smoking hot jam that’s part prog, part psychedelia and part jam band. Zappa’s guitar soloing is purely on fire, but it’s more about moving the song forward than some sort of tedious noodling. That said, the jam session is seriously extended. They bring it back out to the opening section to end.
Son of Mr. Green Genes
In some ways, the jazz based Zappaisms that permeate this one make me think quite a bit of “Peaches en Regalia.” Of course, this is definitely not the same song.  It has some great shifts and changes. It’s also got some exceptional soloing. It’s a lot of fun, really. I really love the almost classically inspired section right at the end, too.
Little Umbrellas
Another instrumental, there is quite a bit of jazz in the mix here. That said, it also has plenty in common with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. This is definitely progressive rock, but with psychedlia and Zappa weirdness built into it. It’s also quite entertaining.
The Gumbo Variations
I’d consider this scorching hot jam to be pure jazz. It’s got some serious saxophone wailing and is an awesome instrumental. Still, it’s got some recognizable Zappa trademarks. There is some killer violin soloing later and we get some incendiary guitar work, too. The whole thing just rocks so well, moving more into fusion territory later. Everyone gets a chance to show off here. Even the rhythm section takes over for a short time. It does turn towards psychedelia right at the end.
It Must Be a Camel
The opening theme on this is pure jazz. That ends, and it seems it might be over. They work out into some frantic fusion from there. It continues to shift and change, though. It turns toward psychedelia, but still based nearly fully on fusion. There are definitely little bits here that are trademark Zappa. It has weird shifts and turns that somehow work. This instrumental is another cool one.
 
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