Ruben & the Jets

For Real!

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Listening to this album was one weird experience back in 1973, and it hasn't gotten much less so since -- but weird in the best, most glorious possible way. Where the 1968 Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention album Cruising with Ruben & the Jets was as much a satire of as a tribute to rock & roll and doo wop music, laced with several layers of humor and musical sophistication piled on top of its basic material, the For Real! album -- produced by Zappa for a real-life Ruben & the Jets -- is a stunningly beautiful, utterly delightful and straightforward musical creation; it's all different from the tone of the album that helped inspire it, yet it seems the perfect follow-up to that album. And it's also a perfect retro rock & roll album. From the opening Zappa-authored number "If I Could Only Be Your Love Again," the band plays it straight, which doesn't mean that they don't have fun with some of the conventions or stretch the envelope a bit; indeed, from the extended blues/R&B outro on "Dedicated to the One I Love," this album is filled with genre-bending and redefining touches -- that outro, incidentally, features an extended guitar solo that is presumed by most (but disputed by one or two people who were there) to be Zappa's one direct musical contribution to the album. But whoever is playing, it's a pretty cool touch moving the girl group standard into Muddy Waters territory (and maybe Wilson Pickett territory before it's done) and quite effectively, too. Hearing this album more than three decades on, one heartily wishes that it could have been more widely played back in 1973 -- For Real! could easily have redefined the parameters and meanings of the entire rock & roll revival and made it a lot more accessible. Ruben Ladron de Guevara and company could do romantic ballads ("Show Me the Way to Your Heart") and stomping rhythm numbers ("Sparkie") with equal inventiveness, including beautifully crafted breaks on sax (by Robert "Buffalo" Roberts and Jim Sherwood) and guitar (from Tony Duran) and gorgeous and powerful singing. The range of material includes originals as well as standards like Chuck Berry's "Almost Grown," and there's not a weak moment anywhere on the album. And as good as all of For Real! is -- without a false note sounded anywhere -- they save the best for last, a stomping, killer version of "All Nite Long" that definitely leaves the listener wanting more (and depend upon it, another go-around on the album is worthwhile). This album did reasonably well at the time of its release, and could at least be found by those who wanted it -- the 1994 Edsel Records CD is a lot tougher to track down in the 21st century, but it's also easily worth the effort and the $30 asking price.

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