Frank Black & The Catholics – The Complete Studio Albums Box Set

From 1998 to 2012 Frank Black and his then band the Catholics notched up 6 albums, all recorded quickly and straight to two tracks, giving his music a sense of raw immediacy. The last 4 never even saw vinyl releases, with the first two fetching high prices, if you can find them. Which is why the good folks at Demon have deigned to issue the complete works as a glorious box set, coming as part of a series of Frank Black re-issues, all of them cut and remastered from the original tapes, with attention to detail as befitting the great man. It really makes a change, as in 1998 the release of the eponymous first album was delayed by the record company worried about the rawness of the recording. I mean, huh? This is Frank Black here…of The Pixies. Duh! It also meant it was the first thing by a major artist to be released on the internet. 

From its opening track “All My Ghosts” to the closer “The Man Who Was Too Loud” Frank Black shows us he really is the master of the honed, souped-up rock ‘n’ roll circus of sound. Guitars to the fore he screams and snarls his way through classic after classic, ‘I don’t want to chat about it/I want to scream and shout about it’ he says in “Do You Feel Bad About It?”. “I Gotta Move” is littered with David Lynch references, not for the first time, as he covered “In Heaven” with The Pixies. The only actual cover on the album is the country and western influenced “Six-Sixty-Six” written by rock gospel originator Larry Norman.

The following year they released “Pistolero”. Once again it was recorded live to two tracks, and this time the lead guitarist position was newly filled by Rich Gilbert, who replaced Lyle Workman, and long-time collaborator Nick Vincent came in on production duties, but otherwise, with the exception of the occasional acoustic guitar on songs like “Billy Radcliffe” and “85 Weeks”, it’s business as usual. Stand out song for me is the Crazy Horse sounding “So Hard To Make Things Out”.

The live to two tracks production continues throughout as Frank considered it more real, and as the work proceeded it began to be fleshed out from the basic guitar, bass, drum format and the release of 2001’s “Dog In The Sand” brought in Eric Drew Feldman and Jeff  Moris Tepper, previously members of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band (and in the case of Feldman, Black’s solo albums), along with Joey Santiago (Pixies), all embellishing the sound with their own unique styles. From the opening song “Blast Off” the additions are immediately apparent, with Santiago’s unique tones joining forces with the arpeggiated synth and even honky-tonk piano of Feldman. “I’ve Seen Your Picture” is led by some strident electric piano, and once again Eric Drew Feldman proves his worth. He seems to have a magic touch and re-vitalises everything he touches. As a result, the album is broader in both scope and feel, from the rolling rockabilly of “Bullet” and the surf ballad of “Stupid Me”, to the Rolling Stones rock of “Hermaphroditos”, it’s all incorporated into the space of its 47 minutes.

The next two albums, “Black Letter Days” and “Devil’s Workshop” were both released on the same day August 20th 2002. Both stand-alone albums with different line-up and production. “Black Letter Days” starts and ends with two different takes of the Tom Waits song “Black Rider” and the album feels looser than previous outings, like the musicians were letting their hair down and having fun. It’s less focussed but warmer. It has the feel of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder period with country, folk and jamming involved. The two stand out songs are the more Frank Black-esque “Jane The Queen Of Love” and “21 Reasons”. “The Devil’s Workshop” is more driven than its predecessor, though it still sounds like a band having fun.

The 6th and final album was “Show Me Your Tears” from 2003. A few months later The Pixies reformed and that pretty much ended a 10-year stint of continual touring and recording live, but it was a prolific time both for the band and for Frank Black, and the quality of these works is remarkable. Many of these recordings have made it to vinyl for the first time, which again is also remarkable, because the process of live recording to two track lends itself extremely well to the (clear)vinyl format. It’s a beautiful thing and a definite must for your collection, especially as you also get a 32 page booklet featuring previously unseen photographs. Go get it.

Andrew Wood / /

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