In today's society the word 'genius' is oft overused and consequently undervalued. But there are times when nothing less will do, when any other term is quite simply inadequate. And I'd submit, without reservation, that Frank Morey's "Cold In Hand" is indeed a work of unfettered genius.
"Cold In Hand" is Frank's third disc. Based in Lowell, Massachusetts, all have been released on his own label. Word is there'll be a new one out in Fall 2002 on Delmark records, and if he maintains the quality evident on this outing, my guess is he's about to become much better known. Not that he's likely to see much airplay, though; Frank's world is much too dark for mainstream radio, an almost frightening place peopled with rubbies and rounders, the losers and the lost, dreaming their hopeless dreams and scheming their desperate schemes.
Religious imagery abounds, with God and the Devil seemingly locked in a battle for both Frank and his characters' souls. But Frank's holding up his end of the fight; in the first track, "Blame It On The Devil," he sings "we'll blame it on the devil/ 'til we get to church and make it alright." Next up is "Goin' Down Kickin," in which Frank defiantly promises to do just that. "Luci" sounds like the female personification of Satan him-or-herself, whose clutches Frank vows to escape . . . "Slick And Mary Lou" is a tender ballad that sees two lost souls find a measure of happiness despite all odds, with just a hint of a whiskey-soaked sentimentality to soften the edges. "Dark Side Of The Road," Frank sounding weary and resigned, is a plea for comfort where comfort is both fleeting and hard indeed to come by. But Frank's resilient; "In The Middle Of Nowhere," he's having the time of his life, fuelled by an unrepentant, unregenerate, and utterly fierce individuality. "Two By Two" continues Frank's obsessions with the struggle between God and the Devil, with the outcome altogether uncertain. Elsewhere there's "Junkietown," with Frank trying to understand how those who seemingly have it all can descend into the darkness, and the cheerful exuberance of "Bumb Shimmy," wherein he seems to revel in that very darkness himself.
Frank's gruff, gravelly voice is perfectly suited to his material. For all the blustery bravado, there's a tender vulnerability underneath it all - well hidden, to be sure, but there nonetheless. Instrumentation, too, is perfect, with his own acoustic guitar augmented by drums, bass, wheezy organ and occasional muted trumpet. There's a strong hint of Tom Waits running through proceedings, both musically and thematically; vocally the resemblance is often uncanny.
It's not blues, exactly, but Frank's music is thoroughly suffused with a bluesy sensibility, owing as much to the form as it does to jazz, country, vaudeville, honky tonk . . . like America itself, it's very much a melting pot, a rich mix of influences. Call it, then, 'Americana,' but from the country's underbelly, the dark side of the dream. It's where Frank wants to be, though, where he needs to be, and while he recognizes its perils, there's simply no other place for a soul such as his. I'd suggest you join him there, if only for a while. Just make sure you come back.
Indigo Hamlet Music
P. O. Box 7430, Lowell, MA 01853 U.S.A.
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