Robbie Rox & The Monster Horn Band
"Earl Owns The World"
Reviewed by Paul Fields
"Earl Owns The World" has something for everyone, yet simultaneously could leave everyone wondering "where's the hook?" unless and until they realise the album was never intended to fit neatly into anyone's notions of how it should be catalogued. It most certainly does not and that is its real strength and appeal.
As a former Flower Child, I thoroughly enjoyed the album since Robbie Rox out-Zappas Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention for comedy, irony, satire and musical variety. Zappa was, after all, the erstwhile musical commentator on the failing civilization that was "The Sixties", a role Rox could handle well at the dawn of the 21st-Century.
The Monster Horn Band punches out a wall of sound with more panache than and a journeyman technique as solid as Chicago ever demonstrated on wax or on stage. And, the rhythm section (Lou Mele on bass, Michael Fonfara on keyboards, and Vito Rezza on drums) shift gears between genres effortlessly, sometimes between blues, soul, hard rock, swing and jazz all within the same tune. All in all, the Monster Horn Band is an ensemble of musicians obviously at the top of their games. Robbie Rox is a three-decade veteran of the Toronto music scene and tours all over Canada. His experience playing with a wide variety of bands and numerous forays into the recording studio is evident in this tight, polished production. Rox wrote the lyrics and composed the music for all eight tracks on the album.
Some of the tracks are as masterfully composed and arranged as any in the classic rock operas "Tommy" and "Jesus Christ Superstar". The parody track, "Ever Been To Sea Billy", with its commentary by an ersatz old-salt seaman, is actually from a rock opera Rox co-authored with arranger Jeff Goodspeed. But, the last track, "And The Alien Twitched" is easily on par with masterpieces like "Pinball Wizard" and "Herod's Song". It may be a tune in search of a rock opera itself, if that genre is ever revived.
"Bumper Sticker People" leads the album. A really funky, Memphis-sound lead-in gives way to a biting editorial on the plasticity of people whose entire personality is dependent on slogans stuck to their rear bumpers and windows. In true Zappa style, it is both poignant and hilarious.
"I Don't Wanna Play" is a perfect example of Rox's penchant for mixing genres and styles, even drawing on European folk forms over a solid big band swing foundation and a bit of blues rock thrown in for good measure. The big government/big brother protest lyrics are thought-provoking but almost lost in front of a composition full of treats for blues, swing and rock fans alike.
"Albert" is, perhaps, the most reminiscent of the early Mothers in its indictment of big business and its rich, musical tapestry delivered by the extremely professional "Monster" band.
Normally, I review and spin blues albums as host of "Every Day I Have The Blues" on the Internet and KHBL (Hannibal, MO). But, I couldn't resist passing along praise for this superb effort taking me back to an earlier era when experimentation and mixing genres was far from commercially or professionally dangerous, it was actually rewarded critically and financially.
The only regret I can share is the likelihood of the "Monster" band not producing more mainstream albums in the future - and that's more a selfish reason since I would relish sharing their solid sound with my blues audience. But, then, they probably wouldn't be the "Monster" band anymore, would they? With its broad musical montage and timely social, economic and political commentary, "Earl Owns The World" should appeal to everyone, regardless of age, unless they are members of the upper strata in the corporate world (or the government) and wear their personality on the back bumper of their car.
For "boomers" with fond memories of the likes of Zappa and the Mothers, "Earl" should be a real find and must-hear album.
Paul Fields / The Blue Jazzman