Mickey Newbury jumped from Mercury to Elektra and in 1970 recorded the second album of his amazing trilogy that began with It Looks Like Rain, and concluded with Heaven Help the Child. Produced by songwriter Dennis Linde and recorded at Cinderella Sound, the same converted garage studio where It Looks Like Rain had been made, 'Frisco Mabel Joy adapts its title from a song on the previous album. Once again, texture, atmosphere, and above all mood and mystery are the central tenets of what would become Newbury's trademark sound. The album opens with Newbury's arrangement of what he called, "The American Trilogy," a suite containing three songs that have their origin in the Civil War. If this sounds familiar, it is: Elvis Presley made a much more bombastic version of this the centerpiece of his Vegas shows. Newbury's version, full of soft strings, guitars, Charlie McCoy's haunting harmonica bleeding into a muted brass section, is full of drama and pathos. 'Frisco Mabel Joy moves into an entire series of songs that talk of dislocation, emptiness, and endless searching through regret, remorse, and ultimately acceptance and resignation. And Newbury's vocal abilities are just astonishing. He has a different voice for literally every song. It is tempting to write about every single song here, but it would be fruitless because Newbury's tunes are so slippery, enigmatic, and mercurial. They shift shape and disappear the moment one tries to pin them down. And if the stories and arrangements aren't enough to confound and inspire the listener, the melodies, all of which have their roots in country music, are even much more simply deceptive, they turn in on themselves and extend each measure with complex phrasing and mode changes, that they extend far beyond their conventionally notated margins. Frisco Mabel Joy is a masterpiece.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek