Tag Archives: Paul Simon

Old/New Albums: Jackson C. Frank’s Self-Titled

jacksoncfrankThe second entry in my Old/New Albums series is the only album recorded by Jackson C. Frank. Frank recorded his self-titled debut in 1965, and viewed in the context of his life, it is one hell of a bleak listen. So some quick backstory.

When he was a child, there was a furnace explosion at his elementary school that killed several children and resulted in severe burns for Frank himself. It was during his hospital recovery that he began playing the guitar to cope with the trauma. After he came of legal age, he was awarded a large sum of insurance money and he used it to travel to England, where he began playing folk clubs and recorded his debut album. He was significantly shy and stories tell of his wanting to be shielded from everyone else in the studio during recording. Not sure how he was able to play live shows, but this is how the story goes. After the album was recorded and released, he suffered a bout of writer’s block and his mental health started to deteriorate. He ran out of insurance money and went back to the United States, ended up marrying and having a son, who then died of cystic fibrosis. By the early ’70s he was asking his friends for aid, and his album was rereleased, though again, to no great fanfare.

By the ’80s, he had been in and out of various mental institutions due to severe depression. In the ’90s, a fan by the name of Jim Abbott discovered him homeless on the streets of New York, with hardly a thing to his name. Physically and mentally, he was a radically different person than the one who released his album back in ’65. As if this wasn’t enough, in a random freak event, Frank was rendered blind after he was hit in the eye by a pellet gun, shot by a young kid shooting indiscriminately at people on the street. He died in 1999 of pneumonia and cardiac arrest.

Pretty depressing life. And it shows 100% in his music. As I said before, this album is a bleak affair. The lead off song is called “Blues Runs The Game” and Frank makes it clear he truly believes that. These are all songs about depression, heartbreak, loneliness. Frank sings about nothing happy. Here’s a smattering of lyrics from around the album:

When I’m not drinking, baby / you are on my mind / when I’m not sleeping, honey / when I ain’t sleeping, Mama / when I’m not sleeping, you know you’ll find me crying

I want to be alone / I need to touch each stone / face the grave that I have grown / I want to be alone

I haven’t any picture to set before my eyes / Nothing to blame when the blues start to rise / Just the memory of laughter and the living out of lies / And if I could change my ways babe, you’d never have said goodbye

Cheery. It’s depressing to think this album was so foretellingly autobiographical and he had no idea. He was singing what he was experiencing but also what he would experience to a much greater degree, further on down his road.

Musically, this album fits right into the mid-’60s folk scene. You’ve got serious echos of Simon & Garfunkel with just a hint of Bob Dylan’s guitar work (Paul Simon actually produced this album, with pal Art Garfunkel hanging around during the recording), but even more prominently, Frank sounds like a clearer-voiced Nick Drake. What I enjoy of that ’60s folk sound isn’t totally present here however, and so I don’t completely connect with this album. It’s very sparse, with little more than Frank’s acoustic guitar providing the sole instrumentation. And on top of that, there is hardly any vocal range. The album opener and album closer start exactly the same way. Because of that, the album really quickly begins to sonically mull together to me. I haven’t skipped around once on this album because it all sounds alike.

So clearly I’m not in love with this album. I’m already looking forward to moving on from it. If you prefer Simon & Garfunkel over Paul Simon’s solo stuff (especially the earliest S&G work), than you’d be the most likely candidate to find some enjoyment in this album.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. “You Never Wanted Me”
  2. “Just Like Anything”
  3. “Blues Run The Game”

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Review

Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 7

You can find the previous Shuffle Lessons volumes here.

1. “You Can Call Me Al” – Paul Simon, Graceland

If anyone ever needed justification for Paul Simon winning the first ever Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the phrase “roly poly little bat-faced girl” should be enough. Paul Simon’s got this frenetic lyrical style, where his songs begin to border almost on spoken word versus actual songs that are sung. It’s amazing how he fits a legitimate short story’s worth of content into a four and a half minute tune, but he pulls it off without breaking a sweat. I’ve never really understood what this song is about, but if I’m being honest, most of Paul Simon’s songs kind of fit that bill for me. This is one of Paul Simon’s most popular solo songs, and for good reason; it’s a fantastic song. Graceland marked a return to the critical spotlight he had been out of for a few years, and there are some strong flavors of international music throughout the whole album. He explores those musical themes even more on his next album, but for my money, the international influences are used to best effect on this album, and a great example is this song. Nothing in your face, just a subtle feeling and an odd background vocal here or there. And in terms of the music, look out for the sickest bass lick in reverse at 3:43.

2. “Gold Watch” – Lupe Fiasco, The Cool

I loved Lupe’s first two albums, because they were full of beats like this one. The entire beat is founded around this female voice saying “oh, give the drummer some, yeah…” and it’s chopped every so slightly, so when it’s put on top of a simple drum rhythm it creates a very unique rhythmic sound. It’s a really simple beat but if simple is done well, it creates some of my very favorite hip hop tracks. The linked video is not the exact song on the album, but it does incorporate the sample material really well and shows you where exactly it came from. Lyrically, Lupe uses the verses to essentially list every odd, non-mainstream, obscure cultural thing he’s into. Fashion, manga, international cultures, old school video games, music, etc. He’s calling out the 95% of hip hop culture that celebrates the same material objects; essentially tearing down the material idols (the eponymous “gold watch”) that have been constructed by hip hop culture of the last decade. It’s not too many shades away from identifying himself with black nerd culture and demonstrating how stereotypes are very often broken when you really begin to learn about a person.

3. “Pray” – Jay Z, American Gangster

This wasn’t one of first favorites off of this album, but its stock rises with repeat listens. Lyrically, you’ve got a pretty straightforward song where Jay Z discusses the two sides of the drug dealing culture. Who’s to blame for the society that pushed him into drug dealing, and was he even pushed into it to begin with? Should he be remorseful about his life’s success when he feels he was forced into it by the hand he was dealt? Ultimately, regardless of his success, he’s admitting that he falls back onto faith when he’s threatened. The beat here is good, but certainly not an attention-grabber. Again, it took me a fair amount of listens to begin to appreciate and enjoy this track much more than the first time I heard it.

4. “Postcards From Far Away” – Coldplay, Prospket’s March

Total time of this track: 48 seconds. A filler instrumental piece on this EP, released from Viva La Vida sessions. It’s a very beautiful solo piano piece, sounding like something from a Jane Austen book. It makes me wonder how many of these Chris Martin comes up with during any given writing session. I would assume most of his songs start as a seed of an idea, something very much like this ditty, then blossoms into a fully-fledged song with the help of the rest of the band. But since we only get around 12 songs on a Coldplay record, what the heck happens to the rest of those song seeds? Makes you think what these little things might’ve become.

5. “Charity Case” – Gnarls Barkely, The Odd Couple

Cee Lo and Danger Mouse! It’s sad to think what a fitting album title this was. It was almost foreboding; the world hasn’t heard new Gnarls Barkley in nearly five and a half years. This is the opening track to their absolutely brilliant sophomore album (love the opening projector sound). These two guys were able to create sonic landscapes unlike anything we were hearing in 2005-2009. They incorporated a bevy of styles, fashions, and rhythms into their music and the end result was just so special. I don’t imagine Cee Lo doing too much in the way of instrumentation, but that could be a naive perspective. He seems to have a very conductor-like way about him, orchestrating the grand spectacle that are his performances. What’s interesting is that Danger Mouse, especially within the parameters of Gnarls Barkley, seemed to have the controlling hand in the music, producing everything according to his very particular, eclectic style, aside from the singing. I’m curious if these two worked well during recording, as they both seem to have a pretty Alpha Creator persona towards their music. Whatever the case, they made fantastic music together, and this is, hands down, one of my favorite songs off of The Odd Couple. The track builds on itself very quickly, and you can hear so many parts blend right away. The James Bond vibrato guitar (Cee Lo must love that), the bass that just glides over the soft rhythm of the drums and the quickly paced hi-hats. Throw in some hand claps and some vocal percussive work by Cee Lo and it’s the perfect way to open a solid gold record.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music