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Frank Zappa - The Hot Rats Sessions CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.24 | 15 ratings

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4 stars As is the case with these immersive box sets, it is always best to weigh whether it is worth it to pay a high price for the set and that goes for any artist that are know to release them. Frank Zappa's estate has been finding out that his fans are happy to pay out the big bucks to get any music that has been previously unreleased by the man since there are always big surprises even in his session tapes, music that Zappa himself never thought anyone would pay money for. But, when you get a valuable and intriguing box set such as this one, based on recording sessions for what is arguably one of his strongest and best albums, it is hard to go wrong. And such is the case with this set.

Yes it helps to be familiar with the music on the "Hot Rats" album as diving into these tracks makes a lot more sense when you already know the music. The "Hot Rats" album consisted of only 6 tracks with only one of them having any vocals which (for those that don't know) are done by guest vocalist Captain Beefheart on the track "Willie the Pimp". One of the things you'll notice about this box set is the fact that, for those that already know the names of the tracks on the original album, there are several other tracks that you won't recognize. That is because there is a lot of previously unreleased music on this box set that was done on these sessions. So, not only do you get a deeply immersive dive into the making of the tracks you are familiar with, which of itself is made up of long jams with music you haven't heard before, but you get other "not so familiar" tracks with it done during those same sessions. Many of these unknown tracks were used in later recordings, however.

I'll try to breeze through this quickly though, and talk about the music that you are not going to be so familiar with just by the titles used here. The set starts off with two piano solo tracks. The first was the short piano sections used for the track "Little House I Used to Live In" from the album "Burnt Weeny Sandwich". The 2nd is a little bit longer and starts off with an unheard piano rendition of the intro to "Peaches en Regalia", but most of it is made up of the piano parts of "Aybe Sea" also from "Burnt Weeny Sandwich". After this, there are several different In Session and Master Tracking sessions of "Peaches en Regalia", taken apart into sections. The most interesting thing about these tracks are the two "Peaches Jam" tracks where only small bits of these jams were used for the track on the original album, so there is a lot of new music here based on the Peaches track. "Arabesque" also shows up on this box set quite often. This particular song, recorded during these sessions, is mostly all new except for the first minute of the finished track which was used for "Toads of the Short Forest" on the album "Weasels Ripped My Flesh". Finally, the first disc ends with an in session recording of a track called "Dame Margret's Son to Be A Bride", and this also ends up in various stages and mixes to follow on this box set. This music would end up becoming the track "Lemme Take You To The Beach" from the "Studio Tan" album in a more abbreviated form.

On Disc 2, after some in session and master take sessions of the track "It Must Be a Camel", you'll notice another unknown title called "Natasha". This was the working title originally for "Little Umbrellas" and here you can listen to it in it's early stages. Then this is followed by another unfamiliar title, "Bognor Regis" which is actually an outtake that wasn't used on the album. Instead, it was used later as a b-side to the song "Sharleena" and is quite unknown. It is an excellent track that fits in quite well with the rest of the music on the original album and is probably one of the things to get the most excited about on the album. It appears is various stages like most of the other music in the box set. Even if you had the b-side the length was a paltry 4 minutes plus change. The unedited master version of this track is over 10 minutes of prime Zappa instrumental fusion. After that there are 4 versions of "Willie the Pimp" in different recording stages, none of them with vocals yet.

For Disc 3, there are now 6 tracks with the title of "Transistion". This would later become known as "Twenty Small Cigars" from "Chunga's Revenge". However, the 6 tracks feature 3 separate sections of this track which is also 3 times longer than the version used on that future album. Then there is an unedited version of a track kjnown as "Lil' Clanton Shuffle" which Zappa afficianados will recognize from the compilation "Lost Episodes", but in a much trimmed down version from this one. "Directly from My Heart to You" was later used for "Weasels Ripped My Flesh", but once again, this is a longer version and also unedited, and the vocals are also here, the first vocals you'll hear on this box set. Finally, for this disc, there is a track "Another Waltz", which is another long jam. Some of this jam was used in part of the center section of "Little House I Used to Live In" from "Burnt Weeny Sandwich". So, Disc 3 has quite a bit of unheard material on it.

Disc 4 features a lot of tracks already touched on up to this point, but in further stages of development. The disc features a lot of unused jam sessions which includes the track "Big Legs", a 32-minute jam which provided a lot of the material used in "The Gumbo Variations" on the original album. Even the extended version released in 1990 only had close to 17 minutes, so a lot of this jam will be unheard of by most people. Disc 5 is the full "Hot Rats" album in it's finished state, but in the 1987 digital version for the best sound. However, the disc doesn't stop there as there are the single mono versions of "Peaches en Regalia" and "Little Umbrellas" plus some radio promos and a different mix of "Lil' Clanton Shuffle". Disc 6 continues in this same vein with more finished sounding tracks, and also different mixes.

For me, this box set is an essential piece of my Frank Zappa collection. It's great because there is a lot of unreleased material here and the entire box set sound amazing even with the in session takes. Some of the mixes and takes are quite good even in their unfinished states. Plus, all of the extra music on here is priceless. I have to say that it would be tough to listen to it all in one sitting, but as far as just putting one of the records on to listen through is quite enjoyable. For that reason, I can easily rate this as a four star collection. But, I think it makes it's best impact on the listener that is already acquainted with the original album. It's a collection I'm proud to own.

TCat | 4/5 |


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