Thursday, September 13, 2018

You say you've never been able to get into Frank Zappa...

I'm 52 and an admitted music freak. Genre-wise, I am all over the map. I pretty much love it all except for top 40 and current hip hop, and I don't know much about classical or opera but I don't dislike it. I am also highly selective when it comes to twang, but there is a lot that I love.... As for rock, jam band, jazz, blues, prog, and metal music genres, I do have a fair amount of useless data hard-wired to my brain and the propensity to geek out; same thing applies to the music of Frank Zappa, which I consider a genre in itself.

I've been a Frank Zappa fan since my older Brother Scott kicked me down a copy of Apostrophe (') 41 years ago, in 1977, when I was 11 years old. I have studied his massive catalog of music semi-extensively, and I managed to catch 1 live show, Bismarck Theatre in Chicago, November 23rd 1984 <= the setlist, for those keeping score. Sadly, Frank Zappa died from Prostate Cancer in '93, at the age of 52.

At the time of his death, there were 62 legitimate Frank Zappa albums, live or studio, plus 4 compilations. Since his death there have been another 49 posthumous live or studio released albums, plus 11 more compilations, for a grand total of 111 live or studio Frank Zappa albums plus another 15 compilation albums, plus a plethora of unauthorized live bootleg albums. Frank Zappa's music pretty much covered the gamut; doo-wop, rock, fusion, funk, reggae, metal, classical, avant garde/straight up weirdness, even a synclavier era. Also, a lot of the album covers have awesome artwork, and in some cases the cover artwork is even better than the music itself. Were a Zappa Newbie to listen to the "wrong" album first, he/she could be horrified and forever doomed to not be able to get into Frank's music... Which is what prompted me to write this essay. Every so often I will post some Frank Zappa YouTubeage on Facebook, and inevitably a music-head Friend of mine will comment that they don't know much about Zappa and have never been able to get into his music...

My favorite period(s) of Zappa is mostly from around 1973 to '88, a lot of electric guitar based rock and fusion-ish music with incredible bands. I am not as heavily into the earlier stuff, much of it with a higher weirdness factor,  or his synclavier and classical music albums, where he had more of a conductor role. I prefer the more frenetic guitar driven albums.

Below are my top 15 "accessible" Frank Zappa albums, not ranked, but in chronological order instead; with some descriptive comments. Keep in mind this list is 100% subjective, and one man's trash is another man's treasure... But, if you know me personally, you probably have a pretty good idea of what floats my boat, and you may find this list useful.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Random Groover's Best Music Picks of 2017

I actually compiled this list back in January, but realized today (5 months later) I never published it. So, without further ado, here is my list of best music of 2017. 5 jazz titles and 10 rock/blues/metal titles, and remember what they say about opinions. Let me know of anything I might've missed, via email or the comments section below. My favorite album of the year was 'Southern Blood.'

Top 10 rock/blues/metal

* Gregg Allman - Southern Blood
As close to perfection as possible, in my opinion, for a Gregg Allman solo album. It was recorded while he was battling the Liver Cancer that eventually claimed him, before the album was actually released. Initially, it was intended to be all new GA penned tunes, but instead it became covers of an autobiographical nature, plus one GA original and one Scott Sharrard (GA's guitarist) penned tune; with my favorite being the cover of Bob Dylan's 'Going Going Gone' -> - The vinyl version comes with a very nice Gregg Allman blood portrait poster.

* The Black Dahlia Murder - Nightbringers
This band has been a guily pleasure of mine since I saw them open for King Diamond roughly 13 years ago. They haven't deviated from their signature furious melodic raw high-tempo cookie-monster vocals sound. The album is ~33 minutes long, which for me is a good dosage, for music this extreme; a full hour would be too much.

* Gizmodrome (self titled)
Gizmodrome is considered a supergroup, and the band is comprised of Stewart Copeland on drums and vocals (The Police), Mark King on bass (Level 42), Adrian Belew on guitar (King Crimson, David Bowie, Frank Zappa), and Italian singer/multi-instrumentalist Vittorio Cosma. It's fun quirky prog music. I was suprised that Adrian isn't lead singer, but since Copeland wrote the lyrics it makes sense he sings them... Plus it keeps it from sounding like another Adrian Belew led King Crimson side project.

* Gov’t Mule: Revolution Come…Revolution Go
Another solid Gov't Mule Album.

* Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound
This album, it seems to me, has just a tad more commercial than the last one, in my opinion; more "hooks" I mean. It's not a bad thing, just an observation. I still hear a "Southern Neil Young vibe." I've read a few not great reviews, in comparison to their last couple albums; but I think this is as strong as any other this band's albums thus far.

* Taj Mahal / Keb' Mo' - TajMo
I'm a huge fan on both Taj and Keb as solo artists, so I was pretty excited to hear this album once I caught wind that it was happening. It's as killer as I expected it to be, and I anxiously await round 2. Bonus points for Joe Walsh sitting in on the 'Squeeze Box' cover.

* North Mississippi Allstars - Prayer For Peace
This is NMAS'es 19th album! Their approach hasn't changed much. Modern stripped down Hill Country Blues. The big man on bass, Chris Chew, has been out of the band for a few years now. This current version of NMAS is a duo, Luther and Cody Dickinson, augmented by guest musicians on different songs, including Oteil Burbridge and Grahame Lesh. 2 originals and 10 covers, their version of 'Deep Ellum Blues' is as good as any I have heard (, this album is outstanding.

* Robert Plant - Carry Fire
Another great Robert Plant album with the Sensational Space Shifters backing him, still one foot in the past (blues) and one foot towards the future.

* Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Barefoot In The Head
CRB's best album yet. More of the same 70's psychedelic southern rock sound, with the Jerry Garcia Band vibe a bit less pronounced in the mix; whereas the CRB funk is a bit more prominent.

* The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
The WoD is one of my favorite newer bands; I still hear the same Tom Petty, Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler and Pink Floyd influences that I heard on their last album.

Top 5 Jazz

* John Abercrombie - Up and Coming
John's last cd. AN ECM release, like most of his music. Very nice but also bittersweet.

* Chris Combs - Combsy
This was a Kickstarter crowdfund project. Chris is the guitarist/lap steel player in Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (post Reed Mathis version of band) and was the mastermind behind their excellent Race Riot Suite album. Chris is based in Oklahoma and this album has a bit of a New Orleans vibe (the horns). He has his own thing going on, no doubt; not quite jazz and not quite rock fusion, and I do hear at times a Frisellian nod on the lap steel. His rhythm section at times reminds me of Bob Green's Grassy Knoll band. This is a must listen album if you're into modern avant garde experimental music. 5 stars all the way!

* DeJohnette Grenadier Medeski Scofield: Hudson
Another amazing project that John Scofield is part of, along with 3 other brilliant players. Sco quite simply can do no wrong.

* Bill Frisell / Thomas Morgan - Small Town
Guitar and upright bass, another ECM release, enough said. Bill's last ECM recording was back in '87! This new one was recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 2016.

* Craig Taborn - Daylight Ghosts
I pretty much enjoy any and all music with the Bad Plus'es Dave King on drums, especially an ECM Records production. In addition to Craig on piano and Dave on drums, there's also Chris Speed on tenor sax and clarinet, and Chris Lightcap on bass; all badass musicians! This album received much critical acclaim from multiple major jazz publications.