Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lost In The Flood: Manic Street Preachers, Know Your Enemy (did not chart in U.S.)

Manic Street Preachers: Know Your Enemy
-review by Bill Glahn-

[Note: This review was written in 2001 upon the album's release. It was recently unearthed while going through some files of my previous writing. It was never published. Know Your Enemy was highly successful around the world (Top 10 in most European countries, High chart positions in Japan, New Zealand & Australia as well) but failed to chart in the U.S. That says more about American media than the worthiness of the album. When the band chose to start the Know Your Enemy tour in Cuba, it proved "all too much" in the dawning of the new age of McCarthyism. If songs about Paul Robeson, Elian Gonzalez, and the symbolism of Guernica hadn't already doomed the record, it's fate became sealed the September after its release. In "Baby Elian" the band sings "You don't just sit in a rocking chair/ When you've built a revolution." It's an important line to remember in 2018.]

The most riveting scene in the opening episode of 100 Centre Street, the Art & Entertainment Network’s smart courtroom drama series, takes place in a restaurant between Judge Joe Rifkind (Alan Arkin) and Judge Attallah Sims (LaTanya Richardson). Rifkind is a liberal Jewish ex-cop who has seen all the barriers that can destroy lives among the poor in New York from street level. As a judge, he has earned the nickname “let ‘em go Joe” for his lenient sentences and willingness to offer a second chance to the defendants that he comes across in night court. His polar opposite, Sims, a black lesbian conservative, has earned the nickname “Attallah The Hun” for her stiff sentencing practices.

Judge Rifkind had recently been faced with a defendant with a history of minor crime who was in court for turnstile jumping. The defendant has already been in jail for two days waiting for a hearing and the maximum allowable punishment is three days. The public defender explains that his client is scheduled to start a new job the next day and asks for a sentence of time served. Viewing the job as an opportunity for the young defendant to put his life on the right track, Rifkind agrees. The defendant immediately goes on a crime spree and kills a rookie cop on her first patrol. An infuriated administrative judge tells Rifkind that he let him “swing alone” for his perceived trespass. The media learns of the judge’s unflattering nickname and a feeding frenzy erupts.

Rifkind and Sims meet over supper between sessions to discuss their scheduling. Sims offers to sit in for Rifkin to divert some of the media heat. Rifkind declines, stating that he will not allow media pressure and circumstances to interfere with the judicial process. Unsaid, but probably a consideration as well, is Sims reputation as a tough jurist.

Then Rifkind asks The Question. “How did you get to be this way?” To which Sims provides The Answer. “When I was 8 years old I was dragged under my front porch and every orifice in my body was penetrated. This was done by people who I had known all my life. Joe, there really are evil people in this world.”

It’s an intensely affecting moment. Rifkin and Sims, despite the immense differences in the way they view the world, become allies. But what if The Question had never been asked?

The first page in the booklet that accompanies The Manic Street Preachers new album “Know Your Enemy” presents a quote from Susan Sontag. “The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions.” It’s a brilliant piece of philosophical thinking that, when taken further underlines the importance of the question. That the Manic Street Preachers realize this is what makes “Know Your Enemy” an important work for our times.

Rather than egotistically state “This is our point of view and we’re going to stuff it down your throats” – the Preachers set up their questions brilliantly. Most significant is their homage to Paul Robeson, “Let Robeson Sing”. It’s a fascinating choice of topic matter. Robeson was the first black man to graduate from the Columbia School of Law and was prohibited from practicing as an attorney because of his race. So instead, he became one of the great singers and performers of the 20th century. Despite the obvious injustice, Robeson remained a patriot, bent not on destroying democracy, but to make it available for all peoples. Included in “Let Robeson Sing” is a sample of Robeson reading “Freedom Train”. Its logic and grace are indisputable. The Preachers have done it justice by wrapping it in one of their most beautifully crafted songs. During the Cold War, Robeson believed that dialogue between America and Russia was so important that he actually traveled to Russia. During the McCarthy era, this was immediately considered a treasonous act, and labeling him a Communist effectively ruined Robeson’s career. Robeson vehemently denied this (eventually exonerated) but it didn’t deter him from trying to start a dialogue with Castro as well. His passport was pulled before he ever got the chance.

While acknowledging the importance of dialogue, The Manic Street Preachers recognize that there are indeed evil people in the world when they name-check Guernica (“My Guernica”). Guernica was the Spanish town that was bombed into oblivion in 1937 by the Nazis even though it held no strategic purpose other than to test-drive the Blitzkrieg. It inspired Pablo Picasso’s greatest work (named “Guernica” after the town), a 25 foot mural of immense despair. Picasso intended the painting to be a gift to his home country of Spain, but only after Spain had become a democratic nation. A number of years after Franco was finally planted the painting was finally delivered to Picasso’s native land.
“The Convalescent” follows underlining the importance of The Question. “DNA means ‘does not accept.”

With this groundwork, The Preachers invite The Question(s), “How does a 6-year old child view the Promised Land?” (Baby Elian) “Is freedom of speech enough?” (Freedom of Speech Won’t Feed My Children). In "Let Robeson Sing" the band asks "Can anyone write a protest song?" They destroy that question throughout Know Your Enemy.

Bonus listens: Live in Cuba

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Willie Nelson: Stayin' Alive

Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
-review by Bill Glahn-

Music industry attorney, Joel Katz, tells a story in Willie Nelson’s 1988 autobiography: “I have in ten years only seen Willie get mad at me one time. Real mad. I…. brought an estate plan to show him how he could earn and keep more money for himself and for his family. Willie erupted.” According to Katz, Nelson stomped out of the room, only to return, much calmer, fifteen minutes later. “You’ve got to understand my philosophy of life, Joel,” Nelson explained. “I want the people around me to be happy, but I look at life as a roller coaster. When I’m up, I’m up, and when I’m down, I’m down, and I hope when it’s all over, the money runs out just about the same time that I’m through with my life.”

More than 3 decades later, Nelson is still making albums at a clip of better than 1 per year and touring extensively. Not that there haven’t been some setbacks. When Nelson cancelled some dates earlier this year with a bout of the flu, some fans speculated that the end of the road was near. But if you’ve been following Nelson for any length of time, you’d know that Willie’s gonna do what Willie’s gonna do. That includes his relationship with mortality. He is, after all, “Gods Problem Child.”

That doesn’t mean Nelson isn’t thinking about the inevitable. On the album’s opening (title) track, he addresses something that occurs with increasing frequency in later years – the passing of friends. He lists a few by name and laments, “it cuts like a wore out knife.” But Nelson turns it into some dark humor, “I don’t wanna be the last man standing, on second thought maybe I do.”

Death is a more frequent topic on Last Man Standing than previous albums. But this is no pity party. Nelson’s always been a master at turning a phrase. And there’s some doozies on his latest. Who else but Willie could use “halitosis” in a lyric and get away with it? “Halitosis is a word I never could spell, but bad breath is better than no breath at all.” What makes Last Man Standing such a joy are the number of laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout. God says, “Willie, we need you up here. Bill Hicks hasn’t come up with a new joke in years.” Willie says, “Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded, so I think I’ll just stay where I am.”

But don’t get the idea that Last Man Standing is top-to-bottom songs about mortality and death. There’s enough first-rate love-gone-wrong weepers mixed in to keep the jukeboxes playing for at least a few more years. The good news here, is that Nelson has gotten the “songbook” phase out of his system for several albums in a row and he’s writing new classics at a pace that defies logic or statistics. He’s proving to be a little bit Mark Twain and a little bit Benjamin Button. And a whole lotta Willie. And his estate planning? Well, there’s also a deluxe edition (3 extra songs) available at that gathering place for his oldest fans, Cracker Barrel.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Pete Townshend's Who Came First: An Album For Our Times

Pete Townshend Who Came First (45th Anniversary Edition)
-review by Bill Glahn

In 1970 and 1972, two little known albums were released by the Universal Spiritual League titled Happy Birthday and I Am. They were tributes to Indian spiritual leader Meher Baba, who had died in 1969, by Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, and associated followers of Baba. Only 2500 of each were pressed and distributed. They would form the core of Townshend’s first solo album, Who Came First.

By 1972, The Who had developed a reputation for being a dynamic hard rockin’ live act – helped along by the most ferocious of  all live albums, Live At Leeds (1970). Their next studio album Who’s Next, with a few notable exceptions, carried that reputation into the studio. The first Who solo project, John Entwistle’s Smash Your Head Against The Wall, did nothing to change that perceived dynamic. Neither did a collection of singles spanning most of the band’s career, Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy. So imagine hearing Who Came First for the first time – an album almost exclusively sung and played by Townshend.

Things start off with “Pure & Easy,” a song, like many of those that appeared on Who’s Next, that was resuscitated from Townshend’s Lifehouse project. In his history of The Who, Before I Get Old, music critic Dave Marsh calls the song “ … Peter Townshend’s greatest statement of his beliefs; it is perhaps rock’s greatest song of faith.” “Pure & Easy” finishes with the most human of percussion, handclaps. It’s a musical theme that will repeat itself often on Who Came First.

The next track is the first song to derive from Happy Birthday, a Ronnie Lane contribution called “Evolution.” It foreshadows the greatness of Rough Mix, a collaboration with Lane that would come later. It’s a spiritual song as well as a tribute. The other song from Happy Birthday, “Content,” a meditative poem put to music, comes near the album’s conclusion. And when Townshend sings “I am content” as the song fades, you believe him.

The most striking difference between Who Came First and contemporary Who albums is in it’s sparseness of amplified instrumentation and the humbleness of the vocals. And those are entirely appropriate for the material. On this 45th anniversary edition, Universal has done well to separate the original (remastered) album onto a single disc and confining the bonus tracks to a second. The second disc will certainly be of interest to longtime Who fans, but it’s the first that you’ll be revisiting time and again.

To these ears, the sound production by Jon Astley sounds superior to the sound I remember on the original vinyl – the separation of the instruments being more pronounced. Especially the handclaps. They jump out of the speakers in a way I don’t remember.

Meher Baba Baba took a vow of silence that lasted the last 44 years of his life (he communicated by a form sign language and an alphabet board.) I listened and I heard music in a word? It’s hard to listen when you’re speaking. When you tune into Townshend's’s spiritual aspects (not the way I listened as an 18-year-old), it opens up a different way of hearing Townshend. In a world where people talk over each other, it's an album that is just as important in 2018 as it was in 1972. Maybe more so.

[Notes: The original Meher Baba tribute albums were bootlegged in the United States, but in even shorter quantities than the originals. All are extremely rare and in demand by collectors. More common are some of the unrealeased tracks, which have been splattered around bootleg CD compilations of “Who outtakes.” An official box set called Avatar compiles Happy Birthday, I Am, and a third Meher Baba tribute album recorded later, With Love (1976).] For the curious, it’s readily available on Amazon..]

Bonus views:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Complete at Last: The Who Live At The Fillmore East 1968

-review by Bill Glahn-

Frankly, there isn’t much new to report here. As The Who’s official website acknowledges, “Due to an acetate reaching the bootleg market in the early ‘70s, The Who’s reputation as rock’s most dynamic live act quickly grew.”

When the Trademark of Quality released Fillmore East in 1970 they commissioned artist William Stout to produce the cover art, which would be duplicated on a paper insert typical of bootlegs from that period. The sound quality was stunning and rivaled official releases. Other bootleg labels were quick to reproduce the release, sometimes with inferior artwork, sometimes with added bonuses in presentation. TMoQ would, itself, reissue the album on colored vinyl. K&S Records (using original TmoQ plates) would go one better with a splash vinyl release. Universal Records, unfortunately, has spared all expense for the official release, with some computer generated tie-dye letters on the front cover. They did commission some new liner notes and released a 3LP vinyl version on premium vinyl. It should be noted that the bootlegs on colored vinyl also used virgin vinyl – the best available at the time. (colored vinyl is always virgin).

But what about the music? Certainly, working from the original 4-track tapes with modern technology, the Universal release should be superior to those old vinyl bootlegs, and it is. But when compared to the Gold Standard CD release (titled Shakin’ All Over) that reached the bootleg market in the ‘90s, there is only about a nickels worth of difference in sound. Working in a new format, Gold Standard was able to expand the show both in length and quality. The mix is close to the one used by Bob Pridden for the official release. You can hear some slight crackle on the Gold Standard release during parts of Pete Townshend’s song intros.

Additional music? The official release adds the previously unavailable “C’mon Everybody” as well as the complete “My Generation” closing number – clocking in at a whopping 34 minutes. (The Gold Standard edition faded out around 9 ½ minutes.) That’s well worth the $30 price tag for the double CD set. Not so much for the vinyl version which splits “My Generation” into two sides. There’s something to be said for listening to a concert from start to finish without interruption. The official release accomplishes that for the first time.

Bonus views:

Monday, April 23, 2018

Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed

-review by Bill Glahn-

In the past five years, Bob Dylan has released five discs of cover tunes from “the great American songbook,” including a three disc set last year. Many critics fawned over them. C’mon now. It should be fawned spelled with a “y.” The first time Dylan pulled this shit, with Self Portrait, the critics got it right. We live in an age of suck up.

To make matters worse, in 2017 he also released a new volume of recordings in his Official Bootleg Series. What, pray tell, did it consist of? A total of 10 different CDs and a DVD from his 1979-81 period, mostly live recordings, in various formats. Lord have mercy! And if you wanted the 2 discs of outtakes and the DVD, you needed to get the deluxe edition (8 discs and a DVD). It might have been Dylan’s revenge on those completists that already owned bootleg copies of those concerts years ago. Me? Those tours weren’t worth the time to track down, let alone the money. And they’re certainly not worth forking out whatever kind of dough Dylan wants for them now. Somebody save this poor wretched Dylan fan.

Let’s face it. Bob Dylan is not a great interpreter of other people’s songs – and he hasn’t been since at least the late ‘60s.  Enter Bettye LaVette.

For a look at LaVette’s ability to take ownership of songs from outside the r&b genre, check out Child Of The Seventies, a collection of sides recorded for Atlantic in 1972 (but not released until 2006) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. There you’ll find Long John Baldry’s “It Ain’t Easy” done swamp-style, Free’s “The Stealer” that puts the Soul in rock ‘n’ roll, and Neil Young’s “Heart Of Gold” void of wimpy-ness. Otis Redding (Satisfaction) and The Ike & Tina Turner Revue (Proud Mary) may had found success in those waters. LaVette didn’t. But it wasn’t because she didn’t do it just as well. Sometimes that shit happens in the music business. Sometimes a dumb-ass in a suit makes the wrong call.

LaVette returned to the studio with 2003’s A Woman Like Me. 2005 brought a collection of covers by other female artists called I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise. In 2007 she took on the men with The Scene Of The Crime, backed by The Drive-by Truckers and former Muscle Shoals session players, David Hood and Spooner Oldham. The exception on that album was the self-penned and autobiographical “Before The Money Came,” a ferocious piece of R & B singed rock.

You’d think that the interpreter aspect of LaVette’s albums might have run its course, but with Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (2010) LaVette trounced that notion – an album that must be heard to be believed. Thankful n’ Thoughtful (2012) includes a Dylan song (Everything Is Broken) and Savoy Brown’s “I’m Tired,” penned by Chris Youlden, Savoy Brown’s best songwriter. And then again on Worthy – Dylan’s “Unbelievable” and Youlden’s “When I Was A Young Girl (Boy).” One of the most appealing things about LaVette’s albums is her ability to dig deep into the catalogs of other artists – a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar – and embrace them as part of her story. When LaVette sings them, they all come across as autobiographical. This is a quality that is lacking in those Dylan records of recent vintage. No matter how different the arrangements or phrasing is, Bob still sounds like he’s singing a collection of favorites from the past.

On Things Have Changed, LaVette’s new album of exclusively Dylan songs, it’s apparent from the get-go that she’s going to take ownership of these songs as well. That might sound like a daunting task. The first thing heard on the album is the sound of LaVette taking charge. LaVette sets the tempo for the title track at a much slower pace. Dylan is running. LaVette isn’t. She sounds as if she’ll turn and cut you if you follow.  Convincingly.

The first real surprise comes with “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight,” an almost forgotten (forgettable) track from Infidels. In LaVette’s hands the vulnerability is magnified 10-fold. It’s followed by another song from Infidels, “The Real You At Last.” This was one Dylan kept in the live setlist for years as a rocking pace-setter. LaVette, instead, revisits Muscle Shoals. When she sings “I’m gonna quit this bullshit now…” she’s got legs to stand on. Vulnerability doesn’t last long.

“Times They Are A-Changin’” drags Dylan into deep blues. It’s almost unrecognizable from the original. It’s the answer song for “Things Have Changed.” Not vice-versa.

If there was anything left for Bettye LaVette to prove (there really wasn’t) it was that NO song-writer is safe when their song lands in her hands. Not even Dylan. She’s gonna lay claim to them. 100 per cent.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Lost In The Flood: Charlie Pickett Live At The Button (1982, never charted)

-by Bill Glahn-

“We were not trying to expand music. We were not trying to expand the vocabulary of music or the words or the subject matter or anything like that. We were trying to dig as deep a hole as we could to get into a blues-rock thing, made with a new view of the world.” (Charlie Pickett interview, Jim Camacho's Adventures in Songwriting).

The well of material that The Eggs were pulling from was evident from their first two singles on Open Records. The first featured a b-side of The Velvet Underground’s “White Light, White Heat.” The second, a cover of The Flamin’ Groovies’ “Slow Death.” But it wasn’t just a music style that the Eggs were pulling from on those records. It was a lifestyle.

Open Records was an offshoot business of Open Books and Records, an historically significant retail outlet in south Florida which strove to become something more. Initially, it seemed, they were a custom imprint for releasing Charlie Pickett and The Eggs records. There is, supposedly, a 12-inch EP by The Bobs (1981), but I’ve never seen one and no one is sharing it on YouTube if there is. Their only other LP after Live At The Button was a compilation of regional artists called The Land That Time Forgot. That was in 1982. A few Charlie Picket tracks were licensed to a European label in 1983 and there was a Charlie Pickett 12-incher in 1984 called Cowboy Junkie Au-Go-Go (later licensed to Safety Net Records as a bonus on the 1988 Peter Buck-produced Charlie Pickett & The MC3 CD, The Wilderness). Open Records had a shorter life span than Charlie Pickett’s career as a recording artist. The store, itself, lasted quite a bit longer, but eventually yielded to the market pressures that many independent book and record stores face. They closed in 1994.

The Wilderness was Charlie Pickett and guitarist Johnny Salton’s last stand together. Pickett would quit the business and become a lawyer. Salton, a truly great guitar player in his prime, would continue making records with The Psycho Daisies and chasing the Keith Richards myth. Salton would pass in 2010. Of the other members of the Eggs that appeared on Live At The Button, drummer Johnny Galway would precede Salton in death by 15 years. To the best of my knowledge, bassist Dave Froshnider still walks the planet. I don’t know that anyone ever expected long lives from the members of Charlie Pickett & The Eggs. They were a band full of junkies that scored their dope in the Overtown.

Overtown and Liberty City are the black neighborhoods in Miami that erupted into riot after the 1980 acquittal of four police officers involved in the beating death of a black salesman and former marine, after he ran a red light. In the words of the prosecutor at the trial, the police cracked his skull “like an egg.” The riots had an effect on the band beyond limiting their ability to score dope. Scoring dope in Overtown was a topic Froshnider had covered in a song written previous to the riots.

Live At The Button is an album of ferocious live rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an album that hit like a ton of bricks when I first heard it and it hasn’t spent much time out of playing rotation since. It’s steeped in the type songs that draw from the same well as their previous singles. But there’s more. Much more. Five songs into the record, the band slows down the tempo for the first and last time. It’s a cover of Manfred Mann’s “Mister You’re a Better Man Than I.”

“Could you condemn a man
If your faith he doesn't hold?
Say the color of his skin
Is the color of his soul?
Or could you say if men
For king and country all must die?
Well, mister you’re a better man than I”

Manfred Mann was one of the first rock/pop musicians to openly hold an anti-apartheid political view. He left his native South Africa in 1961 in protest and immigrated to England.

 The final statement on Live At The Button, however, is an original called “Phantom Train.” It’s a dream sequence in which Pickett is riding on a train with dead poets and authors. Sitting in the back with Edgar Allan Poe and Aleister Crowley is Annabel Lee, a character from a Poe poem by the same name. “And she’s looking at me.” “Annabell Lee” is the last poem written by Poe and it explores deep love and death.

But there’s another passenger on the train, Arthur McDuffie. Arthur McDuffie is not a poet or author, nor a character from any of their writings. McDuffie was the black man that was murdered in the incident that led to the Miami riots of 1980. McDuffie is the only person on the train that Pickett engages in conversation. McDuffie tells him that it’s “suicide” for a black man to show even the slightest lack of respect to police. It’s what has become known as “the talk” that many black men and women give to their children.

Live At The Button isn’t just a great rock ‘n’ roll record. It’s a reminder, to this day, that Black Lives Matter is a long overdue movement.

[Note: The prosecutor in the trial of the four policemen charged in McDuffie’s murder was Janet Reno. The case was torpedoed from the start, when Reno failed to challenge an all male, all white jury.]

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bob Frank - All The Way From Memphis

BOB FRANK Squeeze It Easy
(review by Bill Glahn)

Squeeze It Easy is an album that flirts with nostalgia, but never gets there. That’s a positive development in the world of fireside cowboy songs - the kind of songs Frank specializes in.

The first song that stands out, in a great story, told well kind-of-way, is “Isom Dart.” “Isom Dart” is a true murder ballad that would have offered a better conclusion to Frank’s most critically acclaimed album, World Without End, a joint affair with John Murry. A near faultless album, World Without End presented a collection of murder ballads based on true stories that placed a dark oeuvre on America’s history – from lynching to workplace shootings. Unfortunately, the album’s final track, “Doc Cunningham 1868,” presented the kind of revisionist post-Civil War nostalgia disproved by author Timothy B. Tyson in his book, Blood Done Sign My Name. Nostalgia is the way we want to remember things.

So who was Isom Dart? Dart was a black cowboy murdered by Tom Horn, a gun-for-hire enforcer in the employ of a local (Wyoming/Colorado border) cattle baron. But you won’t find his character in either the movie, Tom Horn, or Mr. Horn, the 1979 TV mini-series. In Frank’s song, Dart is killed for being a rustler. The BlackPast website offers a more balanced, but not altogether conflicting, history. “Isom Dart later returned to Brown’s Hole around 1890 and established his own ranch, but local cattlemen suspected he had built up his ranch herd from cattle he’d rustled from their ranches. The ranchers hired the notorious range detective, Tom Horn, to punish Dart. Horn ambushed and killed Isom Dart on October 3, 1900 near Brown's Hole. Public opinion was (and continues to be) divided about Dart's guilt. Some Brown's Hole residents mourned his death, claiming Dart was killed by cattleman who wanted his land and cattle. They saw Dart as a good-hearted, talented horseman and a top bronc stomper.  Others believed he never completely relinquished his life of cattle rustling and thus remained a menace to the community.”

It’s a fantastic story, but Squeeze It Easy covers ground far and wide. For the first time that I am aware of, Frank directly sings about his time in Vietnam (1967-68) as a member of an engineering brigade (159th). There are love songs (Anna Maria, Me And My West Coast Girl, The Old Rebel Soldier). Yes, “The Old Rebel Soldier” is a love song. It avoids nostalgia by telling a love story. There are childhood remembrances from Memphis (Me & Ol’ Wib Crump). As described on his website, it includes “the high adventures of black cowboys, Mexican maidens, Vietnam vets, desert ghost towns, cheap motels, one night stands, dope smokin’ bronc riders, childhood friends, and the old rebel soldier. Oh, and invisible paint!” These are the stories of a man well-traveled and who knows how to tell them. But what’s this about invisible paint? 

Two tracks that stand out from the rest are “Unusual Artist” and “Coyote Mind.” Frank has visited this type of narrative before, but rarely - and certainly not as effectively. Frank initially refers to these as “…strange little songs, like ‘Judas Iscariot.’ Weird fuckin shit.” But he expands from there. “’Unusual Artist’ is a song about emptiness, the lack of true existence in anything. ‘Coyote Mind’ is actually about recognizing your true nature, who you really are. Both of them are story songs, it’s just that the spiritual aspect is closer to the surface in them than it is in the other songs. They’re more obviously mystical stories, whereas that aspect is more hidden in the other songs.”

When asked to expand on his spiritual beliefs, he states, “I practice Dharma, which is not really a faith, it's not even a religion. It's an experience. It's kind of like Gnosticism, like [poet William] Blake talked about, in that respect. It's about knowledge, not belief. You watch your mind, your thoughts, your emotions, and see what's what - where it all comes from, what it's made of, and so on. I see it as a form of scientific investigation that you do in the laboratory of your own mind. So it's direct seeing, not faith.”

"The thing is, this is actually what's taught in the esoteric schools of all religions, though they don't all use the same terminology. But when you look at what they're describing, they're all pointing at the same thing. It's what Jesus taught, 'The kingdom of heaven is within you.'"

Overall, Squeeze It Easy offers a healthy dose of what longtime listeners have come to expect – good stories well sung and played – stories that will find a welcome home around a campfire, a house concert, or an Americana festival stage. The difference that separates Frank from the average storyteller, though, is that he’s so well traveled. How many cowboy singers can you name that fought in a war, survived Gnashville, told Vanguard Records to go fuck themselves, embarked on a hippie dream, toiled for 30 years in a union job, raised a family, adopted a Gnostic philosophy and did it all the way from Memphis. Yeah, it’s a mighty long way down the dusty trail…