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Frank Black And The Catholics | Black Letter Days & Devil's Workshop (both Cooking Vinyl)
Let it be stated immediately, neither of Frank Black's new ?? simultaneously released ?? albums are worthy of entering the same stratosphere as anything he recorded as a Pixie. From a man who's self-sabotaged his own anti-solo-career by seemingly doing all in his power to corrupt our vision of Boston's finest, this isn't exactly a shock, right? Certainly on recent evidence, that former near-genius x-factor has long evaporated. Focusing firmly instead on the Charles Thompson of 2002 though - for a now mere mortal - Frank Black is still an intriguing human to make contact with. Now solo for a decade, these fourth and fifth LPs with the Catholics in-tow were recorded live, unedited at FB's mobile studio and both feel like they were written in perpetual motion with windows rolled-down and history left behind at the last petrol-station. 'Black Letter Days', the first committed to tape, is over an hour long and includes, bizarrely, Tom Wait's The Black Rider recorded twice. A solid, workmanlike affair, it contains a fair portion of slow songs with slide-guitar illuminating them alongside the spacious keyboard flashes of former Magic Band member Eric Feldman. Occasionally, the normally remote Black appears impassioned and emotionally wracked with his distinctive yelp strangely taking on a Jagger-esque edge. Sometimes engaging, often ragged, this is not quite a red-letter day but hardly an overwhelmingly dark one either.
At roughly half the length of its sister release, 'Devil's Workshop' is certain to fan the embers of Black's old band, featuring as it does the fine fretwork of Joey Santiago. The presence of the guitarist seems to invigorate the rest of the Catholics too, producing a more fleshed-out and cohesive collection. Still hardly airbrushed to perfection, this is a straightforward and enjoyable bar-band rock record that again is seemingly written from the heart in places. Out Of State hints that Black knows his time has gone while The Scene is nicely bitter and twisted, poking fun at today's pretenders with lines such as "can't you see you have no connections, you're oblivious to me". Again, it's all hardly revolutionary, yet the whole band seem to be having fun here and it's tough not to get drawn along with it. If inclined to buy only one, the Devil certainly has the best new tunes, so long as that old image of Black Francis is placed well out of your mind. Now if only he could bring himself to invite Kim Deal out for a ride too...

Ian Fletcher
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002