Review Summary: Not just another live album in Frank Zappa discography
In the seventies Frank Zappa released a string of great rock albums. Just Another Band From LA was released in 1972 and features the reincarnated Mothers of Invention (by then often referred to as simply “The Mothers”). The album has only 5 songs on it, played by a relatively small band consisting of:
• Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals
• Mark Volman – lead vocals
• Howard Kaylan – lead vocals
• Ian Underwood – woodwinds, keyboards, vocals
• Don Preston – keyboards
• Jim Pons – bass guitar, vocals
• Aynsley Dunbar – drums
Volman and Kaylan were known as founding members of The Turtles. After their band ceased to exist they (and Jim Pons) joined the Mothers, adding their trademark harmonies and comedy style performance. The latter however always completely written and arranged by Frank Zappa himself.
This album was recorded live at Pauley Pavilion at UCLA. In the late seventies FZ would often start with live recorded tracks as a basis for his studio albums. He would then add numerous overdubs in the studio or cut up songs and only use a guitar solo from one song to implement in another. “One Size Fits All” (’74) and “Sheik Yerbouti” (’78) are good examples of this technique. This album is completely live and without any overdubs.
The album opens with a stage favourite: “Billy The Mountain”. At almost 25 minutes, this was FZ’s answer to the rock opera’s being released by major bands at the time. It’s a great track that slowly builds up musically as well as lyrically. The storyline is funny and the band plays tight. Numerous great solo’s and exquisite vocal work make this track one of the favourites.
Next, “Call Any Vegetable” also became an FZ classic. This track evolved tremendously from the version on FZ’s album “Absolutely Free”. It’s sort of a jazz rock track with great drum work by Dunbar an important role for Preston on keys.
Then we flow seemlessly into “Eddy, are You Kidding"”. A fun track about Edward Nalbandian, a famous clothing store owner in 50’s / 60’s LA. Again a more theatrical track but nonetheless a great song.
Next is “Magdalena”, one of my personal favourites. Again a mix of a kind of theatrical song with outstanding musicianship and superb lyrics, convincingly sung by Kaylan.
The album ends with “Dog Breath”. Like “Call Any…” a reworked song that finds it’s basis on the album “Uncle Meat” from ’69. On this track, Zappa’s guitar playing is the major drive of the song and the amazingly talented Volman and Kaylan deliver great harmony vocals.
Due to a stage accident, Zappa was hospitalized shortly after this album was released and because he was not able to perform live for a while the Mothers were disbanded. Posthumously different live shows from this band were released, among them “Playground Psychotics” (’92) and “Carnegie Hall” (’11) which also come highly recommended.
All in all this is a great introduction to the world of Frank Zappa (it was my first too). A super tight band with great vocalists and theatrical yet very sophisticated songwriting make this not just another album in FZ’s extensive discography.