While no specific designation has been given to Joe's Corsage (2004), the liner notes indicate that this is the debut of an "exciting new series." The title is undoubtedly a clever play on Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage (1979), but the "Joe" in this case is audio archivist Joe Travers, who has been involved with the Zappa Family Trust (ZFT) since the triple-CD release Läther (1996). Granted, exceptions exist, however for the most part the earliest incarnations of the Mothers of Invention are included here with Zappa (guitar/vocals), "Baby" Ray Collins (vocals/tambourine/harmonica), Roy Estrada (bass), and Jimmy Black (drums). "Pretty Pat" fittingly commences the proceedings with a brief interview clip as Zappa explains the evolution of the Mother's name to MOI prior to seminal readings of "Motherly Love" and "Plastic People" -- presented in a medley -- along beside "Anyway the Wind Blows" and "I Ain't Got No Heart." These late 1965 demos are historically (if not musically) significant as the first recordings to have emerged featuring future Canned Heat guitarist, Henry Vestine (guitar), whose tenure with the rockin' teen combo lasted merely months. Although the selections predate Freak Out! (1966), aside from slight alterations to the respective arrangements -- especially notable during "Motherly Love" -- the songs are already fully formed. It is easy to hear what attracted Zappa to Vestine's earthy and bluesy guitar craft. The next three cuts capture the primary lineup as a live band on a driving cover of the Righteous Brothers' "My Babe" and a soulful workout on Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike." They are linked by a brief instrumental variation of the traditional "Wedding Dress Song" and "Handsome Cabin Boy" folk melodies. The sophisticated score would be revisited when Zappa worked up a studio version with Art Tripp (marimba, vibes), Don Preston (keyboards), and Jimmy Carl Black (drums), eventually surfacing on The Lost Episodes (1996) . Keen-eared listeners will detect that the distinct "Louie Louie" ending perfectly segues into the aforementioned "Hitch Hike." Kicking off the final batch is "I'm So Happy I Could Cry," a primordial incarnation of a tune that would resurface with new lyrics as "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" on We're Only in It for the Money (1968), and reworked sans vocals for the ambitious Lumpy Gravy (1968). Both the doo wop-inspired "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder" as well as "How Could I Be Such a Fool?" are closer to their familiar counterparts with Zappa's guitar overdubs standing out as one of the distinguishing factors of these pre Freak Out! takes. The artist has the last word as "We Made Our Reputation Doing It That Way..." is a lengthier excerpt from an interview with Zappa detailing the methodology behind how the Mothers music was created. Albeit brief, Joe's Corsage is a hardcore enthusiast's dream, displaying the genesis of Zappa's genius in a rock & roll setting. Let's hope Travers continues to produce a multitude of further and equally diverse installments.
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer