Album Reviews: Honeycomb by Frank BlackFrank Black has gone solo again -- for the first time in nearly a decade -- but he hasn't turned his back on good company. This time, though, he has left the noisy Catholics and world-conquering Pixies for a collection of Nashville legends and musician's musicians. Black calls the result "the most moving and mind-blowing experience I've ever had in my musical career." That will make his fans happy, but will they feel the same?
Honeycomb is not, in truth, a mind-blowing listening experience. The only blown minds will probably belong to horrified casual Pixies fans that come around looking for a "Velouria" redux. Black's Nashville album -- constructed in and inspired by the city of legendary twang -- has other designs, and the effect is along the lines of reading a pastoral autobiography from an established science fiction novelist. Seldom have traditional Americana and country arrangements, played so expertly by seasoned session pros, sounded so disconcerting upon first listen (even fourth listen).
The departure is only partially about the old-time, down-home feel of the songs. For a man lyrically renowned for obscure religious iconography and UFO references, Frank's songwriting on Honeycomb is starkly literal and personal. These are transitional tunes about faded love and packed bags, and, ultimately and sometimes simultaneously, new love and redemption. There's a song named after the new woman in his life ("Violet"), and a jaunty duet about divorce with his ex-wife ("Strange Goodbye").
While Black had wanted to make an album like this for years, the actual assembly of Honeycomb took only a few days. This doesn't necessarily translate into spontaneity, but it is easy to feel the energy and camaraderie of the sessions. Indeed, the limited time may have made it harder to stray from predictability on covers like "Dark End of the Street" and "Song of the Shrimp." But the originals almost all hit the mark ("Sing For Joy," "Go Find Your Saint," and "I Burn Today" are all good places to start), and anyone who mistakes Black's change of pace for assimilation isn't paying close enough attention to the chords. This is his version of The Straight Story, but he hasn't entirely abandoned his curveball. And, like that film, the human center, open regret and linear matter-of-factness of Honeycomb are rendered more poignant by the brilliant, sometimes baffling opaqueness of the preceding catalog. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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