Cucamonga--Del-Fi Records, Inc. (PO Box 69188, Los Angeles, CA 90069)
Del-Fi's new Frank Zappa compilation CD Cucamonga collects the earliest part of the Zappa story for Zappa collectors and completists: a series of novelty singles from 1963-64 recorded in Cucamonga's Pal Recording Studio, renamed Studio Z when Zappa took it over in late '64. Although collected under the Zappa name, the tracks are actually credited to a variety of acts and have varying degrees of Zappa involvement, but Frank plays all the instruments himself on at least a few of the songs and produced, engineered, and/or played on the remainder to some degree at least. While this CD is probably not the ideal place to begin your exposure to Zappa's uniquely twisted world(the debut album Freak Out! or the 'greatest hits' compilation Strictly Commercial might be better for that), Cucamonga is a must-buy for Zappa fans and the excellent liner notes by Bryan Thomas provide a valuable window into the environment and circumstances surrounding the recording of these fourteen tracks. The music contained here shows that Frank had his fingers in a lot of pies at the beginning; varied is the key word here--there's everything here from surf music to doo-wop to "Monster Mash" derivatives, all with something of that unique Zappa twist to them.
My Ride’s Here
Across the course of his career, Warren Zevon’s become known as the kind of guy who often has high-profile guest stars make appearances on his records, so much so that it might be quicker to name all the big ‘70s stars who haven’t played with him. Suffice to say, this is a guy who managed to get Jerry Garcia, Neil Young and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour to do guest shots on lead guitar—on the same album! (1989’s Transverse City)
This time around, he’s gone a slightly different route: oh, there are still plenty of Warren’s famous friends all over this album, but very few of them are musicians. Instead, Zevon collaborated on the songs for My Ride’s Here with some of his more literary friends, including author Carl Hiaasen (“Basket Case”, something of a theme song accompanying Hiaasen’s recent novel of the same title), legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, poet Paul Muldoon, and Tuesdays With Morrie author Mitch Alborn. Beyond that, “Hit Somebody! (the Hockey Song)” even features the unlikeliest backing vocalist of all time: Late Show host David Letterman makes appearances in the song’s chorus, shouting “Hit somebody!” Even putting Letterman’s appearance aside, it may surprise some to note that despite the literary leanings of the album (no less than two songs mentioning Lord Byron!) My Ride’s Here is still a very funny album—even without help, Zevon tosses off some of the best one-liners and couplets in music, and with help, well, he’s unbeatable (a sample: “You and the barber make a handsome pair/ Guess what—I never liked the way he cut your hair”).
Overall, My Ride’s Here makes a strong case for Zevon’s continued comeback, which started with 2000’s excellent Life’ll Kill Ya; if anything, My Ride’s Here is an even stronger album overall than Life’ll Kill Ya, maintaining the same quality in the songwriting and largely eliminating the slightly rudimentary feel that resulted from much of Life’ll Kill Ya being home recordings—not that the new album was done much differently, but perhaps Warren’s getting better at this approach. More power to him: if he can make a final product that’s this good without paying those astronomical studio bills, why waste the cash?