red lights


Brave sea change

Frank Black - Honeycomb
(Back Porch Records)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 21, 2005
Frank Black

Review by Tony Bonyata

Pixies frontman Frank Black has just released his first solo effort since his 1996 Cult of Ray album, entitled Honeycomb. For fans of his former band the Pixies, whom Black has reunited with for a recent tour, and even those who may expect some of the edgier material from his own solo albums and side projects with his band The Catholics, the fourteen songs that grace this album are anything but the quirky, punkish alt-rock that Black is most famous for.
Produced by Jon Tivon (Wilson Picket, B.B. King, Robert Plant) Black has created an interesting sea change of Americana music augmented by some of Nashville's most beloved studio musicians, including guitarists Steve Cropper, Buddy Miller and Reggie Young, drummers Anton Fig, Chester Thompson and Billy Block, bassist David Hood and keyboardist Spooner Oldham. Oddly enough, this was the first time that many of these venerable musicians had ever played together. As Black related on the recording process, "This was the only time that I have ever been in a studio and had the strange feeling that I was witnessing something spiritual. When we were recording, those guys didn't even look at each other, they closed their eyes and they meant it."
While the first impression of this record - based on Black's back catalogue of aggro-alt-rock - falls short of initial expectations, after closer inspection it becomes evident through Black's own interpretation of the great American songbook that his songcraft is still fully intact. Despite the fact that many of the original compositions here would've sounded just as at-home on a number of his previous solo efforts, the no-nonsense arrangements and expert musicianship that abounds throughout definitely finds the singer / guitarist mining new territory.  From the gentle and harrowing balladry of "Dark End of the Street" and title track, to the warm-hearted spirit that glows on "I Burn Today," "Another Velvet Goldmine" and the Leonard Cohen-inspired alt-country number "Atom In My Heart,"  Black successfully jumps the tracks onto a different age-old genre of music. Even when he revisits covers such as Doug Sham's "Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day" and the irresistible "Song of the Shrimp," from Elvis Presley's Girls, Girls, Girls film, Black and company resuscitate these long forgotten chestnuts with a breath of fresh air.
While this earthy reinvention of his music may not be the strongest effort in Frank Black's ever-growing musical canon, it's certainly his bravest.

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