Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rich's Random Reviews: The Grandmothers "Eating the Astoria"

The way I look at it, when in doubt, make your first blog about something interesting, odd and cool. So I'm starting with an record I recently listened to for the first time: The Grandmothers album “Eating the Astoria.” It qualifies under all three criteria.
The Grandmothers are a band composed of former members of the legendary Mothers of Invention. And just as there were many different incarnations of the Mothers, so has been the course for the Grandmothers. The primary forces behind the Grandmothers were Don Preston, Bunk Gardner and Jimmy Carl Black who formed the original band in the early eighties. The line-up has changed various times, and there were even two separate bands performing under that name at the same time at one point. The band has also had some troubles with Gail Zappa, the controlling interest of the Zappa Family Trust, who handle the music of the original Mothers of Invention, which was usually ascribed as being written by Frank Zappa.  Jimmy Carl Black makes a brief mention to this situation without mentioning any names at the start of this album.
This concert was recorded in 1998 at the London Astoria. The Grandmothers line-up on this album includes only two original MOI members, Jimmy Carl Black (“The Indian of the Group”) and Bunk “Sweetpants” Gardner. Steve B. Roney handles the drums, Sandro Oliva guitar and vocals, Ener Bladezipper bass and Maurio Andreoni plays keyboards. While this may not be the actual Mothers of Invention, don’t let the fact that there are a lot of different names in the band throw you; this is an excellent touring group who know this relatively difficult material through-and-through.
I have to say that most of the album gives me the feeling that I’m listening to a live swing big band. The highlight of the disc for me was “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It,” a relatively long song that Jimmy Carl mentions was played only a few times live with the MOI (but that they play every night). There’s a good cross section of MOI hits, including “Call Any Vegetable,” “Big Leg Emma” and “Uncle Meat.” The Italians in the band provide a couple of numbers, including “Teen-a-Peek-a,” about the omnipresent matronly aunt that chaperones the female interest in a lot Italian romantic flicks.
Jimmy Carl Black takes the vocal chores on quite a few of the songs, memorably the bluesy “Lady Queen Bee” and “The Great White Buffalo,” both songs he wrote or co-wrote. He also closed out the concert on a medley of “The Orange County Lumber Truck” and the Native American-themed “Trail of Tears.” It’s clear that everyone is having fun and giving the audience what they came for: The music of Frank Zappa and the original Mothers of Invention.
While it probably helps if you’re a Zappa fan, there’s nothing I can’t recommend about “Eating the Astoria” - it’s definitely worth a couple of listens by any fan of good rock music.

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