Bob Frank

A Little Gest of Robin Hood

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Bob Frank, who made one country-folk album for Vanguard Records in 1972 and then largely disappeared from the music business, returns to action 29 years later on his own Bowstring Records label with a singular project. It is his modern-language adaptation (unless the word is "translation") of the 13th century English poem A Little Geste of Robin Hood. In Frank's hands it has become a six-part, 77-minute, rhythmically spoken folk song. He plays familiar folk melodies on his guitar and recites in a sort of talking blues style, telling tales of Robin Hood and His Merry Men, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and so on. Although Frank has updated the language, it retains some Old English phrases, "thee" and "thou" and that sort of thing, and as an oral work it has frequently repeated terms: "the comely king," "the greenwood tree." There's no sex to speak of (no Maid Marian here), but plenty of violence, including a decapitation of the Sheriff in the sixth "fit," as the sections are called, after which Robin has to make his peace with the king. Frank, a Memphis native who has spent more than a quarter century living in the San Francisco Bay Area, recites with a slight Southern accent, making him a different sort of narrator from what the material would seem to indicate. But he consistently engages the listener through the 456 four-line stanzas. For antecedents, consider Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad" and Bob Dylan's "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest," although this performance is much longer than those lengthy ballads. Fans may hope for an album of Frank's original songs to follow this now that he's put his toe in the water. This album is a curiosity, but a welcome one.

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