Eddie Jobson

REVIEW: Frank Zappa – Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar (1981)


FRANK ZAPPA – Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar (1981, 2012 Universal/Zappa remaster)

This is the first time I’ve ever seriously tried to write a Frank Zappa review; a daunting task indeed. I rely heavily on the excellent booklet inside the 2012 Universal/Zappa Record reissue of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar. For example, an advertisement for the album tells me that it was originally issued (in 1981) as three mail order records. You could buy them at once or separately, and they were individually titled Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More, and Return of The Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar.  Then they were later re-released as a 3 LP box set.

ZAPPA_0006I also like how the spines of this series of remasters are all numbered, so you can easily file them in chronological order. That’s how I file my albums (alphabetically by artist, then chronologically by album). These three records were 31, 32, 33. For shits and giggles, I separated the tracks from this 2 CD release into the original 3 LP running order. My logic was, this gave the listener (me) a more “original” listening experience, as I took coffee breaks between “records” to collect my thoughts.

The whole Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar set is a collection of instrumental guitar solos.  Many of these are taken from live performances of other songs, but presented on their own, sometimes with humorous dialogue sprinkled in between.  All solos are by Frank, although giants such as Steve Vai and Warren Cuccurullo are behind him on rhythm guitar.  Frank’s playing is diverse (it better be if your album is an hour and three-quarters long) and interesting at all times.  I’m not a guitar head, I can’t sit here and tell you, “Oh right now he’s playing the such-and-such mode in the key of whatever.”  I can just tell you when my jaw hits the floor (frequently).

Rhythmically, “five-five-FIVE” (the opener) is one of my favourite tracks.  The internets tell me that the time signature is a repeated sequence of 5/8 + 5/8 + 5/4.  On top of that are some exotic and mindblowing Zappa tones.  I was hooked on the first time.  The next one, “Hog Heaven” is slower, a respite.  Zappa remains the architect of electric guitar sounds you just don’t get to hear every day.  I also love the aptly named “Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression” which does indeed have a vaguely Santana vibe.

Other highlights included “Ship Ahoy” which I’m not even sure how to describe so I won’t.  “Pink Napkins” is a jazzy jam session with Eddie Jobson on keyboards that hits just the right notes.  The 10 minute closer “Canard Du Jour” is remarkably by being sparse, without wasting precious playing time by being boring.  It is aided and abetted by Jean-Luc Ponty on violin, a treat indeed.

I think I’ve said enough.  I paid nine freakin’ bucks (Sunrise) for almost two hours of Frank Zappa playing guitar.  How is that not one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made?

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – A / Slipstream (CD/DVD)

JETHRO TULL – A / Slipstream (2004 Chrysalis CD/DVD, originally 1980)

Unlike most Jethro Tull remasters, A did not contain any bonus tracks.  Rather, it includes the only official DVD release of Slipstream, an old Tull live/music video VHS release.

Cole’s Notes version of the history:  A began life as an Ian Anderson solo album, featuring new Tull bassist Dave Pegg and ex-Roxy Music multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson.  Jobson brought along his drummer friend Mark Craney, and then finally Ian asked his Tull bandmate Martin Barre to come in and play on a couple tracks.  Somehow, this turned into Martin playing on the entire album.

Anderson says that the record label, who were pushing for A to be released under the Jethro Tull banner, suddenly announced that Craney and Jobson were replacing current Tull members Barriemore Barlow, John Evan, and David Palmer.  This and other factors led to that exact lineup change, but with Jobson listed as a “special guest”.

A_0004Regardless of the office politics, A is a solid albeit very different and 80’s sounding Jethro Tull album.  I’m not a huge fan of the opener “Crossfire”, but I think that “Flyingdale Flyer” is a great combination of progressive rock Tull with the modern tweaks.  “Working Joe, Working Joe” is OK, but I’m not a fan of that funky synthy bass line.  I love the spacey sci-fi intro to “Black Sunday”, a precursor of sorts to “The Final Countdown”. Then it changes to something a little more challenging with the flute leading the charge.  At 6:39 and with multiple sections and tempos, this is easily the most epic track.

The digital pulse of “Batteries Not Included” is pretty cool, but it’s not really an outstanding track.  “Uniform” rolls along solidly.  “4.W.D (Low Ratio)” is a guilty pleasure.  “The Pine Marten’s Jig” sounds as the title implies, but perhaps just a little more complex than the average jig!  The closing song is the dramatic “And Further On”. Its mood is appropriate for a closer, and I dig that cascading piano.

Incidentally, this is one of those CDs that were “Copy Controlled”.  Boy, did that piss people off.  Some people said you had to take a black magic marker to the outer edge of the disc in order to copy them.  I never felt the urge to try this trick, and it doesn’t matter because the obsolete software does nothing to inhibit ripping today.

And that’s the album.  The DVD Slipstream opens with a homeless-looking Anderson (sleeping under a Thick As A Brick newspaper) being chased by the balloons from The Prisoner.  He then stumbles into a Jethro Tull concert, not a security person in sight!  When has this happened to you?

A_0005Tull then open with a hard rocking “Black Sunday”.  Martin Barre and Ian Anderson are really the only guys that look like they’re in the same band!  The excellent “Dun Ringill” is presented music video style.  It’s like Anderson playing over the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Bowman’s in the pod.  “Flyingdale Flyer” is better, with Tull as some sort of band of interstellar explorers.  Anderson’s facial expressions make this one irresistible.  The next song is once again live, and it is the classic “Songs From the Wood”.  Jobson’s got his hands full with two keyboards!  This is paired with “Heavy Horses” sounding unfortunately cumbersome due to the domination by those same keyboards.

“Sweet Dream”, one of my all time favourite Tull songs, ever, cannot be tamed by the keyboards.  They are there, but the song is powerful nonetheless, as it should be.  In this clip, Anderson plays both the homeless ragged man, and…a vampire!  I actually like this clip a lot.  My favourite clip is “Too Old  To Rock ‘N’ Roll”, the entire band dressed as old men.  This is the album version of the song.

Next is the lovely “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day”.  On this track, which is live, Eddie Jobson plays a neat electric mandolin.  “Aqualung” is pummeling, Mark Craney keeping busy while also hitting hard.  The set closes with “Locomotive Breath” which starts completely awful, as a new-wave-funk-prog song of some kind, before finally picking up steam as it should.  The flute solo is as brilliant as ever, and I’ll never get tired of watching Martin Barre shake his skullet wildly.

3/5 stars