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Robbie Rox & The Monster Horn Band

"Earl Owns The World"

By Mark Hughes

Do you fancy something a bit different? Do you believe that humour does belong in music? Want a bit of a giggle while listening to some interesting and well-played music? Miss the narrative tales as performed by Frank Zappa and his various ensembles? If you answered yes to any of these questions then I have a suggestion...check out Earl Owns The World the new CD by Robbie Rox & The Monster Horn Band.

Unbelievably, Canadian Robbie Rox has had a musical career that spans a third of a century during which time he has produced twelve idiosyncratic albums. Starting out in Quebec in 1970 as a local opening act for visiting American and European bands (notably Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels and Gentle Giant), Rox has spent the past 33 years touring Canada with a variety of bands and indulging in all sorts of musical theatre. The Monster Horn Band was originally formed in 1984 and lasted for three years before Rox took a break to write and produce a musical called Ever Been To Sea Billy and then getting side-tracked by a couple of other band projects - Cazzotto and The Rude Band. Finally, in 2000, the charismatic performer reformed The Monster Horn Band and set about recording Earl Owns The World that also sees a return to elements of the "Ever Been To Sea Billy" musical.

The album itself simply defies categorisation, which, I have no doubt, is very much intentional. The nine-piece band (drums, bass, keyboards, guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, flute and vocals) is very tight and switches between musical genres with consummate ease. The album opens with Bumper Sticker People which riles at people who demonstrate their humour (or lack of it), ideals and politics by sticking stupid slogans on their cars... "Fish eaters make better lovers" indeed. A very funky number with a great combination of the horns, Hammond organ and a biting guitar solo. And that is just the starting point! The rest of the album is quite simply a musical adventure, a listening odyssy. Lyrical inspiration throughout the album is derived from a variety of sources - a Romanian playwright (Rhinoceros), old television commercials (Albert and Ever Been To Sea Billy) and even the Alien films (And The Alien Twitched). However, in each case there is a subtle twist to the tale, the lyrics become an incisive stab at the original premise which results in a mostly wry, often humorous and generally thought provoking read.

The standard of musicianship is extremely high, the years of touring is certainly evident from the tightness that the band achieves. The arrangements are imaginative and full, but still allow room for the pieces to breathe. That is partly thanks to the crystal clear production (by guitarist Jono Grant and drummer Vito Rezza) that allows each instrument to shine through, the separation between instruments is as good as on any major label release that probably cost a good deal more to record.

Overall, it is the fact that this album is so different from anything I have heard in recent years that makes it stand out. The insertions of narrative, as in the 'Twilight Zone' interludes in Rhinoceros and the extraterrestrial conversations in And The Alien Twitched add to the enjoyment of the album. Zappa freaks should lap this up and anyone partial to a bit of rhythm and blues tinged progressive jazz rock all served up with a healthy dose of funky swing will not be disappointed. You never know, this could be the start of the rock opera revival!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10 (for the adventurous and open minded, a bit lower for the prog purists!)

Mark Hughes