Ruben & the Jets

Con Safos

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The second album by Ruben & the Jets, Con Safos is less well known than its predecessor, For Real!, due to the fact that Frank Zappa didn't produce it or write any of the songs for it, although it was still recorded under the auspices of Zappa's In-Discreet label, with Denny Randell serving as producer. But it isn't much less ambitious than its predecessor and, if anything, offers a veritable cornucopia of diverse and divergent musical styles and sounds that all manage to pull together into a coherent whole -- a little like some of Zappa's best work, come to think of it; this album is just a little less in-your-face with its ambitions. Despite Zappa's non-involvement, parts of Con Safos sound a bit like a Zappa album: The freewheeling "Cruisin' Down Broadway," and ballad "To Be Loved" could have been part of the original 1968 Cruising with Ruben & the Jets album, and the rap opening on "Low Ridin' Cruiser," a fast-paced rocker that celebrates the group's East L.A. origins. And no one in the '70s -- except maybe Earl "Speedo" Carroll himself and whatever group he was fronting -- was doing a better rendition of the Cadillacs' classic "Speedo" than this group, the fourth track on the album, which has some Zappa-esque touches in the harmonizing. The band followed this with a powerful. slow, bluesy rendition of Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk," showcasing Robert "Buffalo Bob" Roberts' tenor playing. Robert "Frog" Camarena's "Stronger" pushed Roberts' tenor to the foreground along with Tony Duran's lead guitar work and some great ensemble singing. Elmore James' "Dust My Blues" makes an appearance, showcasing Duran again. And Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" is present as part of a medley with "A Thousand Miles Away." And just for good measure in this delightful musical strew, Camanera's exquisitely beautiful "I Wanna Know" (harmonized as beautifully as any doo wop ballad ever recorded) has an opening with some comical drug references that point the way to Cheech & Chong's recordings (and the group had appeared with the comic duo around the time of the recording of this album); and it's preceded by a piece of surreal, almost psychedelic ersatz that somehow completes Camanera's song. The finale, Tony Duran's "Durango," ties it all up, an instrumental that slides effortlessly across styles and periods from '50s R&B to '70s progressive rock -- like 1972-vintage King Crimson reconceived with East L.A. roots -- anticipating any number of Zappa works of the next few years. To be fair, the album isn't as cohesive as For Real!, but it has enough great moments, for lovers of great music, killer rock & roll, or Frank Zappa's work, to make it worth tracking down, on the original Mercury LP or the early-'90s Edsel Records CD edition, which is nicely annotated as well.

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