Thursday, January 18, 2007
FRANK ZAPPA | Trance-Fusion | Zappa
Forget Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen and Buckethead. Late-model guitar shredders of all generations must bow down to Frank Zappa. The hallowed guitarist, satirist, free-speech advocate and composer of rock, jazz and classical music—who exited this plane 13 years ago last month—has a new album in stores.
But to some Zappa freaks, it’ll already be familiar. Rumors flew about this record’s release in 1999, 2003 and 2005, but until now, it has only been available as a bootleg. The tracks were recorded in concert between 1977 and 1988 at locations all over the United States and in Europe, with a variety of backing groups and engineers.
Fans of the classic FZ tune “Peaches en Regalia” and his Grammy Award-winning album Jazz From Hell will be drawn to this hour-long, 16-song collection of instrumental showcases from the man who sarcastically once named an album Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar.
With the exception of the Zappa standard “Chunga’s Revenge,” all of the solos are actually derived from live jams on other tunes. For instance, the fluid title track has been excerpted from a 1988 performance in Germany of “Marque-Son’s Chicken.” And the lovely closing song, “Bavarian Sunset,” was born during a jam following “I Am the Walrus” a few days earlier.
Titles show evidence of Zappa’s voracious interest in monster movies, theoretical physics and animated television series. And Dweezil Zappa, no slouch on the six-string, appears with his father on two cuts. —Gene Armstrong
ISOBEL CAMPBELL | Milkwhite Sheets | V2 Records
Ballad of the Broken Seas, the first record Isobel Campbell released in 2006, was a series of duets with ex-Screaming Trees’ front man Mark Lanegan, the human foghorn. The contrast was the conceit, but Lanegan’s smoke-cured bass made Campbell’s wispy vocals more of an instrumental accent than equal partner.
You can’t say the same about Milkwhite Sheets, Campbell’s second release of the year. On these 13 folk songs, the ex-Belle & Sebastian chanteuse’s voice is the show, adorning the sparse scaffolding of the instrumentation like full-bloom bougainvillea. Comprised of six originals, five traditionals and a couple of covers, Milkwhite Sheets was inspired by the music of female folk legends Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins and Jean Ritchie, and could stand proudly among them. It’s a tribute to her songwriting that it’s almost impossible to distinguish between Campbell’s originals and British folk standards like “Reynadine” and “Hori Horo.”
But it’s Campbell’s vocals that leave the most lasting impression. The pop whisper that broke so many hearts with Belle & Sebastian turns out to be custom-made for this genre, and perfect accompaniment for the cellos, glockenspiel, dulcimer, harp, recorder and Spanish guitar that frame these songs. —John Schacht
VARIOUS ARTISTS | Sugar Hill Records: A Retrospective | Sugar Hill
When the major record labels turned from provocateurs to profiteers in the late 1970s, more concerned with money than art, one benefit was the rise of independent labels. They became the breeding ground for the top groups of the time: R.E.M., U2 and Bob Marley all recorded for independents.
The North Carolina-based Sugar Hill Records was founded in 1978 by Barry Poss to record modern music that was grounded in traditional styles. His formula was simple: sign good bands and give them artistic freedom.
This four-disc set celebrates the label’s first 25 years and includes a bonus DVD; it’s essential for any roots-music fan. Included artists range from Guy Clark to Rodney Crowell to Ricky Skaggs to Doc Watson to Townes Van Zandt to Nickel Creek, demonstrating both the quality and eclectic mix of Sugar Hill. —Scott Freeman