Frank Black - Honeycomb Review
by Zane Ewton
Frank Black is set to release his first solo album since 1996's Cult of Ray. The premise of Honeycomb stems from a decade old conversation between Black and producer Jon Tiven. The plan was to hit a Nashville recording studio with a handful of songs and record with a few of Nashville's most respected musicians.
Early last year, days before the reunited Pixies were scheduled to start their tour, Black and Tiven were able to wrangle some of Nashville's best to record Black's songs, some old, some new and a few covers. Steve Cropper, Reggie Young, Spooner Oldham, David Hood, Anton Fig and Buddy Miller are some of the names that are attached to Honeycomb. Most Pixies fans are bound to be confused by some of those names, but collectively these men have been involved with some of the most influential American music ever made. Any recording session for rock and roll or R&B in Nashville would have had these men in their midst.
The press for Honeycomb likens it to a jazz session, musicians creating together in the moment. This is a very apt description and Honeycomb may be Black's first real stab at a singer-songwriter album. At a time when a new Pixies album would be the obvious route to travel Black offers up a complete left turn and delivers an album that may be his most personal and beautifully sleepy.
Honeycomb never gets out of control or picks the pace up too much. It is definitely a mellow album with a great debt to folk, country and all things southern. The musicians associated with this album have greatly influenced the sound and fans of Frank Black probably won't recognize anything but his voice. Speaking of his voice, he never shrieks or wails on Honeycomb. He slides and croons. Soft and emotional.
Black admits that he let personal issues frequent this album more than he ever has before. It is hard to argue with that when one of the songs is a duet with his ex-wife called "Strange Goodbye". Lyrically, his humor and quirkiness is underplayed with an emphasis on the simple pleasure of life, even if it may be a wearied outlook at times.
The album rides steady with well developed songs. None essentially stand out, which could be good or bad. "Selkie Bride" is quiet start to the album but demonstrates the feeling of the album, surreal but classic feeling. "I Burn Today" has a great guitar sound and Cropper's solo is fantastic. "Another Velvet Nightmare" is a boozy kind of song, in more ways than in the lyrical content of "Today I felt my heat / slide into my belly / so I puked it up with liquor / and I slept right where I lay / and I dreamed the back of cards / for the faces were not telling / no, I never have felt sicker / and I do not want to wake"
The covers on the album are done well, with the same mellow feeling of the album. "Dark end of the street", "Song of the Shrimp" and "Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day" are some of Black's favorites that he has wanted to record for a long time. The songs that are more upbeat definitely pull the album up and have the most repeatability, including "Go Find Your Saint", "Strange Goodbye" and "Atom in My Heart".
The closing song, "Sing for Joy", ends the album on a high note. Honeycomb is a refreshingly optimistic album. It sounds like it was made in another time but still retains an energy and excitement for music that is fun to listen to. Pixies fans might be taken back, expecting to hear something in that same vein but Black has done something much different with Honeycomb, and arguably far more musically and emotionally accomplished.
CD Info and Links
Frank Black - Honeycomb
Label:Back Porch Music
1. Selkie Bride
2. I Burn Today
3. Lone Child
4. Another Velvet
6. Dark End Of The Street
7. Go Find Your Saint
8. Song Of The Shrimp
9. Strange Goodbye
10. Sunday Sunny Mill
11. Valley Groove Day
13. My Life Is In Storage
14. Atom In My Heart
16. Sing For Joy
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