To Be Frank…
There are two albums sitting on my desk next to the laptop that I’m typing on and I haven’t yet heard them. One of them is Bruce Springsteen’s new and, as I understand, angry album, Wrecking Ball. Serendipitously, the album landed just as I was thinking of Springsteen. I like Springsteen although I’m not as huge a fan of the sincere, honest, working-class hero musician as are a couple of my colleagues. He is politically outspoken and many of his albums are themed on major issues of their times—Wrecking Ball has been associated by critics with the current financial crisis in the US.
But I wasn’t thinking of Springsteen’s music when the CD arrived courtesy the folks at Sony Music. I had just got the February 27 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek and the cover had an image of Mitt Romney with his back to the camera and one of a hand holding the cover of Springsteen’s 1984 album, Born in the USA. Only, the magazine’s headline said Scorned in the USA. A funny and clever cover. And ironic that Springsteen’s new album, which arrived just then, was one that scathingly indicts the suits on Wall Street.
I haven’t heard Wrecking Ball yet. Neither have I tried the other surprise arrival in the mail, the new Cranberries album, Roses, their first in ten years. I like Dolores O’Riordan’s Celtic lilt and, during the mid and late-nineties have had cassette tapes of No Need to Argue and To the Faithful Departed as permanent residents in my car. Yet, I have not yet heard the Cranberries new album.
I would have heard both theirs as well as Springsteen’s new ones had I not chanced upon a nearly 14-minute version of a Frank Zappa song, Advance Romance. Actually, I chanced upon a relatively recent release of a live concert by the maverick musician. Recorded way back in 1976, Philly 76, was released by the Zappa Family Trust only in 2009, some 16 years after Zappa died prematurely at 52. Frank Zappa was a genius—not only was he an exceptionally talented electric guitarist but a composer of rock, jazz and classical music, a film-maker, producer and singer-songwriter. But more on all that in just a bit.
Philly 76 is a bit different from Zappa’s other albums and he has several—in his lifetime he released more than 60 albums and after his death the family trust released nearly 30 (and yet, I remember going nuts trying to score Zappa albums in the late seventies and the eighties in India; none seemed to be available readily in those prehistoric analog decades). Philly 76 features Lady Bianca, the electric blues singer whose vocals are strikingly big and display influences of jazz, gospel and soul. I heard Advance Romance, a wryly funny Zappa song about a character called Potato-head Bobby, sung by Lady Bianca who briefly toured with Zappa’s band in 1976, and decided that I must get the album. The search was not easy. You can order the CD or vinyl versions online, of course, but getting hold of digital versions turned out to be a challenge.
Nearly all the tracks—there are 23– from Philly 76 are previously unreleased and even though the concert goes back 36 years, the recording shows how much fun a Zappa concert used to be. The spontaneity and unexpectedness of his shows is something showcased by Philly 76. There are excellent solos—Zappa’s own as well as bandmate Ray White’s on guitar; and Eddie Jobson’s on the keyboards. But what stands out is the unusual touch that Lady Bianca adds to Zappa staples–songs such as Dirty Love, Chrissy Puked Twice and the always-a-treat-to-hear, Dinah-Moe Humm. If you’re a Zappa fan and don’t have this album, get it.
And if you’ve never heard Zappa, well what can I say except feel sorry for you. I could, however, direct you to Apostrophe (‘), Sheik Yerbouti or Joe’s Garage—all great albums to start you off. You could also add a live album to that list—1978’s Live in New York.
Meanwhile, I’m going to give Wrecking Ball and Roses a listen. At last.