Memphis country-folk singer/songwriter Bob Frank proves to be a keen and witty observer of society's more desperate characters on his self-titled debut album. Frank sings in a conversational baritone with a mid-South accent that is stronger on some songs than on others, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar with some Nashville session musicians sitting in here and there. His lyrics are well-crafted, which stands in contrast to his stories and character studies, often concerning what Hank Williams used to call "life's other side." Consider titles like "Wino" and "Return to Skid Row Joe" -- the songs are simply drenched in alcohol and contain frequent drug references as well. For example, the comic novelty "She Pawned Her Diamond for Some Gold" finds the song's narrator encouraging his girlfriend to rustle up some money to purchase marijuana (you can't smoke a diamond ring, he points out), and in the irreverent "Judas Iscariot," the Biblical tale of Judas' betrayal of Christ is rewritten as a sort of botched bet in which the protagonists are stoned on hashish. The song is set to the same folk tune as Bob Dylan's "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest," and another of Frank's primary influences, Gordon Lightfoot, is evoked in "Cold Canadian Pines," which concerns a draft dodger who went north of the border. Frank's characters (both those he describes and the "I" who sings the songs) are usually too drunk or stoned for romance, but "Waitsburg" is an affectionate recollection a woman who, unlike those the singer's friends met, didn't give him a venereal disease. Frank is a wry wit with an eye for telling details. Despite the careful writing, it's hard to believe these songs were written without some first-hand research. A lot, one suspects.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann