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Frank Black and the Catholics | Dog In The Sand (Cooking Vinyl)
Of all the geniuses to emerge from the wreckage of those godlike Eighties bands (Mould, Westerberg, Eitzel et al) Frank Black (nee Black Francis) is the greatest underachiever. Five solo albums and barely a song fit to tune the Pixies' guitars. He's left alone on his abstract plain, stroking his Fu Manchu 'tache, barely listened to by anyone anywhere anymore. So it was a small matter to dismiss his latest release. But as I was poised to deliver the killing stroke I steadied my hand above the keyboard. It was that yearning pedal steel on I'll Be Blue, the glories of Stupid Me and The Swimmer, and the rocking If It Takes All Night which sounds like nothing so much as a toned-down Meatloaf (just don't tell anyone). Having washed up at Cooking Vinyl after years of record label traumas this was thrown down in ten days nearly a year onto a - count 'em - two-track (not so much lo as bottom-of-the-barrel fi) and yet it was dripping with melodies which just wouldn't be ignored. And there - sing hosanna - was Joey Santiago, doing his guitar thing on Blast Off and Robert Onion. You can almost see Frank, Telecaster perched on his ample stomach, launching into the former as he sings 'I heading into dark / Take shit as shit is'. Admittedly, some tracks (Blast Off actually) outstay their welcome while others are under-developed. But the country influence, with the omnipresent pedal steel and slide guitars of Dave Philips and Rich Gilbert, really pays off - Black surely can't get any closer to bluesgrass than St Francis Dam Disaster. He's even reined in the oddball references. Valhalla, sirens and Aldous Huxley warrant a mention but basically the field's clear for Stephen Malkmus to be crowned sultan of surreal. Instead Black comes over like a man with plenty to say just looking for the right voice and this could be it. Back in black next time?

Mark Walton
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001