The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1991

http://www.zappa.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/22/2005

If there's anything I've learned about Frank Zappa over the course of doing this retrospective, it's that he rarely said anything he couldn't back up.

So, when Zappa titled an album The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life, you could be sure of two things. First, this was indeed a band that was rarely heard, as this is the second disc featuring performances from the short-lived 1988 band. Second, the title is stunningly accurate. While this collection is a bit heavy on the cover versions, it does portray what could have been Zappa's finest group ever.

Over the course of the two CDs making up this set, Zappa and company do two things right. First, the stops are pulled out and tracks rarely heard in concert are dusted off for your auditory pleasure. I mean, "Who Needs The Peace Corps"! "Florentine Pogen"! Even one track I'm not particularly fond of, "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue," rears its head in a surprising move. This really was a collection of tunes that the long-time Zappa fan could celebrate, as all aspects of his career are considered.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Second, the band is as tight musically as ever, and they show it. What other rock group could get away with performing Ravel's "Bolero" and make it sound so good? Likewise, the group takes on "Stairway To Heaven," a track which is almost inviolate in the music world, and do a respectable job tackling it with a reggae feel.

What also makes this set special is that Zappa's darkest vitriol is saved for a subject who damned well deserved it at the time - namely, the Reverend (and I use that term loosely) Jimmy Swaggart. Having just been caught taking the parable of the good seed to heart - albeit with a hooker in a motel room - Zappa and company let all the ammo loose towards Swaggart, releasing versions of "Lonesome Cowboy Burt," "More Trouble Everyday" and "Penguin In Bondage" with lyrics taking direct aim at the tele-fakir. Never has taking potshots at some poor bastard (though, in this case, remove the term "poor") sounded so good.

The group almost tries to prove itself a little too hard, though, as they jump from cover tune to cover tune. Their version of "Ring Of Fire" is a lot of fun (and makes me wish that Johnny Cash had been able to make it to the show to sing live with the band), but other tracks, like "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "Godfather Part Two Theme" are a little too liberal.

At times, it sometimes feels like The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life runs a little long, but the pure musicianship and energy save the day. Like the previous release featuring the '88 touring band, Broadway The Hard Way, Zappa finally sounds like he's having the time of his life on stage again - something that had been missing for a while.

Zappa rarely blew his own horn without having a good reason to - and in the case of The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life, that reason is most definitely there.

2005 Christopher Thelen and "The Daily Vault." All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of the Zappa Family Trust / record label, and is used for informational purposes only.

Rating: A-

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© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc, and is used for informational purposes only.