Frank Frost recently passed away, leaving behind a legacy of very fine recordings. His last, "The Jelly Roll Kings," recorded with long time soulmate Sam Carr, is right up there with the best of them. It's an album of down home Blues at its very best, brim full of passion and power.
Frank Frost and Sam Carr worked together for over 40 years, preferring to remain in the South, fitting gigs and recording sessions around their beloved fishing trips. Originally working in Frank Frost and the Nighthawks, they later became the Jelly Roll Kings with Big Jack Johnson on guitar. After a misunderstanding Johnson moved on, but Frost and Carr stayed together, and here they are joined by producer Fred James on guitar and bass. It may be a bit of a departure from James' more usual Nashville Blues scene, but he does a perfect job, leaving the spotlight to the old timers, and only stepping in when invited by Frost.
The band come crashing in on the opener ("Let's Go Out Tonight"), and are in the groove from the very first note. They never lose it on a journey that runs right through to the closing instrumental "Done With Me," and the way is littered with highlights. Every track is impressive, but the simplicity of "Mess Around" is especially effective, and highlights the attraction of Frost and Carr. There's no frills, it's just straight ahead, no nonsense Blues played with real feeling.
Frost's harp playing is highly expressive and powerful. He attributed it to playing from the gut, rather than the chest. There's a raw edge to his style, making him sound a little like an unpolished version of Sonny Boy Williamson II, and all the better for it. Frost also wrote 11 of the 12 tracks here, and handles the singing in a very effective worldly-weary style. Carr wrote the other track ("Owl Headed Woman") which he also sing.
Carr, who is also fluent on guitar, bass and keyboards, is a drummer's drummer. He only took up drumming because he couldn't find a steady drummer for the band. Fortunately his father's protestations that "You'll never be able to play drums. Why, you couldn't even cool soup." turned out to be wide of the mark. Carr was the foundation of most things that he and Frost did, both on and off stage, even though he's ten years Frost's senior. There was a synergy between the two of them which is apparent on their recordings but was especially evident in their live performances.
"The Jelly Roll Kings" should be in everyone's collection, as a lasting tribute to the legend that was Frank Frost, if for no other reason. It stands on its own merits, too, as one of the finest examples of how powerful down home Blues can sound in the hands of experts. Essential listening.
HMG/Hightone Records: www.hightone.com
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.