Frank Zappa saved some of his best offerings for 1981's Return of the Son of Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar. Like its predecessors, the final installment in the three-LP anthology primarily consisted of guitar solos that had been extracted from live concert performances. Of course, there are no absolutes and the concluding two entries prove that. "Stucco Homes" and "Canard du Jour" are studio creations, with the latter standing out for its fascinating duet between Zappa on the bouzouki -- a three-stringed instrument of Greek derivation -- and Jean-Luc Ponty on baritone violin. As one might anticipate, the results sound like nothing else in Zappa's prolific catalog. The lion's share of the contents were documented circa 1979 and 1980. During this period, Zappa was augmented by rhythm guitarists Warren Cuccurullo, Denny Walley, Ike Willis, Ray White, and Steve Vai; keyboardists Tommy Mars, Peter Wolf, and Bob Harris; bassist Arthur Barrow; percussionist Ed Mann; and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. There is a palpable sense of tension and release as the ensemble presents the guitarist with hearty, complex, and -- at the very least -- interesting textures and sonic hues. Zappa pours his expansive ideas onto the soundscape with a certainty and purpose that is simply unmatched in terms of passion and inspiration. The sinuous title track perfectly exemplifies where skill intersects with Zappa's singular muse. A few additional standouts are the comparatively funky "Pinocchio's Furniture," the poignant urgency of "Why Johnny Can't Read," and the previously mentioned "Canard du Jour." In between the songs are interludes of spoken "conceptual continuity" by Davey Moire, Terry Bozzio, and Patrick O'Hearn. Parties familiar with Zappa's recordings during this period will note similar non-musical segues throughout Sheik Yerbouti (1979), Tinseltown Rebellion (1981), the Baby Snakes soundtrack recording (1979), and most prominently on the posthumous masterwork Läther (1996).
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer