Frank Black & The Catholics – Snake Oil/Live At Melkweg, Amsterdam March 24 2001 (Expanded Edition)

Those folks at Demon have been doing amazing things with their re-issues of Frank Black over the past couple of years, especially for a vinyl obsessive like me, many of their re-issues seeing the light on vinyl for the first time, including these beauties. “Snake Oil” was originally released in digital format only, sometime around 2006, and represents various recordings of covers he did with The Catholics between 1998 and 2003, some obscure, some not so, all delivered with that raw straight to two track vibe he was indulging himself in during that period. Expect guitar/bass/drums with a raw petrol chainsaw delivery and that distinctive half shouted throaty immediacy that is his trademark.

“Take What You Want” opens the covers album , a song originally by American singer/songwriter Reid Paley, who Frank has collaborated with on 2011’s “Paley & Francis”. This version sounds like Dylan’s “Pledging My Time”, with a similar mercurial sound to “Blonde On Blonde”. Bob Dylan‘s influence is never far from this album, as the next song, although a traditional folk song, was covered by the man on his “Self Portrait” album. Black’s version sounds somewhat similar to another Dylan song “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)”. It is delivered (unsurprisingly) with more gusto, musically more like Neil Young and Crazy Horse. There is another nod to the great man later with his version of “Changing Of The Guards” from Dylan’s 1977 “Street Legal”, which has always been a favourite of mine. Frank’s version strips the song down and is physically relentless, stretching his voice hoarse over its 6.30 minutes, again sounding not unlike Crazy Horse.

“Some Things (I Can’t Get Used To)” is a version of a song by American 80’s punk band Angst, described by many as one of the greatest songs you’ve never heard. The original is very close to the version here, and I’m guessing they were a big influence on the fledgling Pixies. Talking of The Pixies, the version of Bruce Springsteen‘s “I’m Going Down” could easily be from “Doolittle”, with its distinctive chugging bass line and the loud/quiet/loud aspect.”The Big Hurt” may not be as good as the 1959 Toni Fisher original, with its lush orchestration, strange phasing effects and angst-driven lyrics, or even the 1966 Del Shannon version, with its ethereal vox organ shimmers, but it suits his groove something else, and The Specials‘ “Do Nothing” has been transformed into a punk rock classic. On “Down In The Hole” once again he gives a Pixies “Vamos” style groove to Rolling Stones bluesy slow burner. The album ends with a cover of Donovan‘s “Sleep” from his “Cosmic Wheels” album from 1970, a pedal steel country blues version sounding closer to Elvis Presley‘s “Love Me Tender” than even the original did.

If you’re looking for a straight ahead, raw, live rock ‘n’ roll show captured on vinyl then you can do no better than Frank Black & The Catholics, recorded live in Amsterdam during their “Dog In The Sand” tour of 2001.  A complete concert over 3 discs awesomely packaged in a deluxe triple gatefold sleeve capturing high energy performances of songs from his back catalogue, including The Pixies. Everything is a highlight on here, especially the vicious “Black Rider” which constantly threatens to topple over into chaos. The Hammond organ intro to “Gouge Away” is glorious, and the sublime use of pedal steel guitar in “Monkey Gone To Heaven” is inspired, “The Holiday Song” is visceral, like a flick knife and “I Will Run After You” sounds like a long lost “Sticky Fingers” period Stones classic. “Where Is My Mind?” is perfection, with the audience doing their usual sing-along… In fact there’s no point pointing out songs as it’s all good. Give your system a treat and put it on good and loud.

Andrew Wood / /

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