Frank Pahl

The Back of Beyond

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AllMusic Review by Fran├žois Couture

It may be hard to believe, but The Back of Beyond is Frank Pahl's first solo album since 1998! In the meantime he has released a collaboration with the French naive duo Klimperei and an album with his Scavenger Quartet. Both groups make appearances on this album, along with the usual suspects, expert "Pahlologists" such as Marko Novachcoff, Terri Sarris, and Bobbi Benson. The Back of Beyond is more focused than In Cahoots (1996) or Remove the Cork (1998), as it sticks to the instrumental format. And Pahl has refined his art. His music mostly consists of precious little melodies performed on an assortment of toy and unusual instruments: ukuleles, euphonium, harmonium, zither, melodica, and an array of self-built automated devices. Each of these short pieces (23 in the course of an hour) feels like a bonsai. Under its apparent fragility lies a world of small details and precise gestures. Yes, there is something Japanese in the refinement of this music, despite -- or even because of -- the cling-clang of its misfit toys. The sound world of Pascal Comelade once more comes to mind, although Pahl's music is also rooted in Americana. "Epilogue" has a country-folk sound buried deeply in its core. And what about his interpretation of an old tune from the Little Rascals television series, "Good Old Days"? Only Pahl could dig that up and make it sound timeless. As the years pass by, the humorous singer/songwriter of Only a Mother has turned into a composer of finesse for unlikely orchestras. You can prefer one over the other, but you can't deny the irresistible charm of The Back of Beyond.

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