With the exception of 2003's Intercontinentals, Bill Frisell had been playing it pretty safe for some time, sticking to his own personal vision of variations on the Americana theme (with nearly all of those albums being produced by Lee Townsend, by the way). Well, a change of producers often means a change of pace, and teaming up with eclectic producer Hal Willner for Unspeakable seems to have gotten the creative juices flowing again. Their working relationship goes back a long ways, all the way back to the Amarcord Nino Rota tribute from the early '80s. The use of a string section on more than three-fourths of the tunes already adds a different flavor to this album, but the fact that Frisell and Willner seem to have taken inspiration from the sounds of classic soul music is what really sets this apart from others in the Frisell catalog. Not only that, but Frisell's delays return in a more prominent role and he offers up some of his fiercest playing in years. There are a handful of introspective pieces that feature just the strings and guitar, with some slight sonic embellishments from Willner. The majority of the tunes, however, sound something like Bill Frisell scoring the music to Superfly! The soul grooves are tough to miss, but with this cast of players, it comes off like some cinematic offshoot of soul music. The grooves are fantastic, and Frisell really rises to the occasion, bringing back the delays, nasty distorted tone, and ugly harmonics that have been largely absent from his more recent releases. There are still lots of lovely sounds, but it's great to hear him stretching out a bit more again. Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen have not only served as Frisell's rhythm section in the past, but they also play together in Sex Mob. Sometimes aided by Don Alias, they really drive the tunes, with the strings and occasional horns punctuating the melody and Frisell's guitars floating all over the place. Willner's use of turntables and samplers adds some great sounds to the mix, sometimes adding an almost exotica flavor. It's all quite accessible, but fans with delicate ears may be put off by some of the noisier moments on the album, like the keyboard (?) sound on "Stringbean" or the guitar solo on "Old Sugar Bear." Other fans will be delighted to hear such a glorious din on a Bill Frisell record again. After so much of a similar thing, it's just great to hear Frisell being pushed in a new direction (and quite a fun one, at that). Recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard