Zappa: Erie (Zappa Records/UMe, 6 CDs, 6 hours 57 min.). The latest excavation from Frank Zappa’s vast, legendary vault brings together a trio of shows performed in and around Erie, Pa. in 1974 and 1976. The six-disc set/digital collection contains almost seven hours of unreleased performances from Zappa and three different band lineups. Of the 71 tracks, only 10 minutes have been previously released, on Zappa’s classic 1974 live album, “Roxy & Elsewhere,” outside of the amateur bootleg recordings.

The set’s vinyl-sized hardcover book has detailed liner notes about the shows and recordings by vault master Joe Travers, along with Erie journalist Dan Schell, author of “9 Years of Rock: The Story of the Concerts at the Erie County Fieldhouse.” There also are photos of Zappa by David Smith, images of the original tapes, original concert fliers, a newspaper review of one show and a scathing rebuttal to the review by a passionate fan. The audio was professionally recorded on 4-track tape by Zappa’s team of engineers and newly mixed by longtime Zappa Trust associate Craig Parker Adams and mastered by John Polito, both aiding in restoring the audio as needed.

The set kicks off with the best of the three shows, at Edinboro State College on May 8, 1974, and is followed by Zappa’s first proper concert in Erie at the Gannon Auditorium at Catholic Gannon University on Nov. 12, 1974. It concludes with what would be his last Erie show, Nov. 12, 1976, at the Erie County Fieldhouse. In addition to the full shows, several performances from South Bend, Ind.; Toledo, Ohio; and Montreal, from the same time period, are included as bonus tracks.

The Edinboro concert was part of a month-long run of shows celebrating the 10th anniversary of Zappa’s band, The Mothers, as well as his just-released album, “Apostrophe (‘).” The band included Bruce Fowler on trombone and vocals; Chester Thompson on drums and percussion; Don Preston on synthesizer; George Duke on keyboards, synthesizer, and vocals; Jeff Simmons on guitar and vocals; Napoleon Murphy Brock on tenor sax, flute, and lead vocals; Ralph Humphrey on drums; Tom Fowler on bass; and Walt Fowler on trumpet.

Part of the repertoire for the tour was a medley of songs Zappa constructed from the Mothers of Invention’s 1966 debut album, “Freak Out,” and 1968’s “We’re Only In It For The Money,” but with significantly altered arrangements. This marks the first time these renditions, as well as a full concert from the 10th anniversary tour, have been released. The concert’s many highlights include the jazzy “Cosmik Debris,” the funky “Pygmy Twylyte,” and “Inca Roads.” There are radically reconfigured early Mothers tracks “Hungry Freaks, Daddy,” “Wowie Zowie,” “How Could I Be Such a Fool,” “Harry, You’re A Beast” and “The Idiot Bastard Son.”

For the Gannon Auditorium show, Zappa was backed by the slimmed down lineup of Thompson, Duke, Brock and Fowler, with Ruth Underwood rejoining the group on percussion. Zappa says he is suffering from the flu and castigates an unruly audience that would not sit down so those in the back could see. He actually stops the show several times.

The 1976 show at the Erie County Fieldhouse featured a completely different line-up, with Eddie Jobson on keyboards and violin (very good on “Black Napkins”); Patrick O’Hearn on bass and vocals; Ray White on guitar and vocals; Terry Bozzio on drums and vocals; and Lady Bianca on keyboards and vocals. Jobson earlier played with Roxy Music and later with Yes, before forming his own supergroup UK in 1977 with two former King Crimson members. Bozzio also was in UK, before helping form Missing Persons. Grade: B

The Tragically Hip: Live at the Roxy (Universal CD, 77 min.). The mix is crunchy, blasting as the Canadian band did in its early, very aggressive stage. Singer-songwriter Gord Downie fights with his inner demons as his braying vocals soar and duck. He often goes beyond the lyrics with his between song patter and mid-song rants. The band was touring in support of its second full-length album, “Road Apples,” most of which is performed.

In “Highway Girl,” Downie ad-libs an unsettling yarn about a man and female lover who engage in murder, body disposal and a suicide pact by shotgun, with only one bullet —ending on a surprisingly lighthearted Ry Cooder eulogy reference that later works its way into the end of “All Canadian Surf Club,” the evening’s closer.

Before “Cordelia,” Downie introduces Paul Langlois as “the Kurosawa of the guitar,” which paves the way for him to talk about Akira Kurosawa’s epic film “Ran,” the Shakespearean play “King Lear” and King Lear’s daughters, saying that Cordelia was his fourth (not his third, as Shakespeare wrote).

There also is the similarly gory stage rap in the Killer Whale Tank version of “New Orleans Is Sinking.” In Downie’s nine-minute mid-song story, he talks about a job cleaning an aquarium and inadvertently causing friction between the two whales held in the tank. It is obviously fiction, as he did not really lose an arm.

The performance was May 3, 1991, at the West Hollywood club. Prior to its inclusion on the “Road Apples 30th Anniversary Deluxe” package last year, the 15-song concert had not been publicly available and was sought after by bootleggers and diehard fans. Originally recorded for a Westwood One radio show, only 40 minutes of the set was broadcast at the time.

“Fight” is one of the few softer vocals, at least initially. The guitar work by Langlois and Rob Baker is outstanding here. In fact, their interplay shines throughout the show. The first encore, the bluesy “Long Time Running,” also has a softer vocal. “I’ll Believe in You (Or I’ll Be Leaving You Tonight)” is one of many hard-driving songs. Another is “On the Verge,” a highlight which closes the main set. Grade: A

The cover of “All New.” Courtesy Community Music

 

Tom Paxton, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer: All New (Community Music, 2 CDs, 85 min.). The 28 songs began in weekly co-writing sessions via ZOOM with Paxton and Fink when the COVID pandemic kept people at home. Each week’s session resulted in a new song. The results include love songs, comedy, history, social justice, and storytelling, ranging from folk to bluegrass to swing to round-singing and even a Celtic song. Marxer contributed wide-ranging instrumental virtuosity and arrangement ideas.

Fink writes on Paxton’s website, “We have been dear friends since the early 1980s. Tom laughs when he says that Marcy and I turned him into a wedding singer as he graciously sang his song ‘You Are Love’ at our wedding in 2012. But just as Pete Seeger was both mentor and friend to Tom, Tom has been the very same to us. We’ve collaborated on many projects, from Tom’s Grammy-winning and-nominated albums, to co-writing songs that have appeared on Cathy & Marcy albums, singing at benefit concerts together, and simply being there for each other. The physical isolation of the pandemic opened a regular Wednesday morning songwriting session for Tom and me …. for over two years.”

Fink continues, “One of our focuses was to write a lot of community songs with strong choruses that others can sing together (“Freedom of Forgiving,” “Now, Not Then,” “Grateful,” “Friends Like These,” “To the Ones Who Gave It All,” “We’re Still Here”). For a few weeks, we were obsessed with female outlaws and heroines (“Pearl of Arizona,” “Stagecoach Mary,” “Eleanor Dumont”). We love telling stories (“Dry Times,” “Rust on the Rails,” “Dreams of Home”), and we both love a good country tearjerker, even if it ain’t our own story (“Perfect Strangers”). What about those illegal happy country love songs (“With You,” “Since You,” “I’m Still in Love With You”)? Some songs have no category other than our whim of the day (“Grandpa Danced the Charleston,” “Something’s in The Air,” “Good News”).

“Pete’s Shoulders (The Power of Song)” is an homage to Seeger. Paxton gets political on the two-line “Trump Lost, Biden Won” and “When the Big, Bad Books Go ‘Boo!’,” which points out that book-banning creates forbidden fruit to be sought out. The breezy “Something’s in the Air” is about winter giving way to spring, while “The Freedom of Forgiving” is about living in the moment and not carrying grudges. Paxton also does a rant about the internet in “Is This Thing On?” The collection ends with the post-COVID “We’re Getting Back to Normal.”

In general, the first of the two discs is the more engaging, but it always is good to hear Paxton, whom I first listened to in 1971, the time of his “Talking Vietnam Pot Luck Blues” and “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound.” Grade: B

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

 

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