More Excellent Dark Americana from Frankenpine

by delarue

Dark Americana/bluegrass band Frankenpine’s 2011 debut The Crooked Mountain ranked in the top thirty albums of the year here last year, which doesn’t do justice to its creepy diversity. Their new one, In That Black Sky – streaming online in its entirety – is just as solid and just as eclectic. Like Bobtownjust reviewed here – this band has several good songwriters who’re fluent in vintage Americana: oldtime Appalachian folk, bluegrass, swing and country blues, to name a few. And Frankenpine likes mysteries.

One of the best tracks is Iron Road, co-written by banjo player Matthew Chase and frontwoman/guitarist Kim Chase. She delivers this brisk, biting, minor-key bluegrass tune with a wary, apprehensive edge in her voice and lush harmonies from the rest of the band. It’s a Nashville gothic train ballad, with a surprise ending that makes more sense with repeated listening: it’s obvious that this story isn’t going to end well. Phantom Limb, another dark bluegrass romp has Kim’s vocals plaintively longing for someone who disappeared into the woods, set to a stark backdrop of spiky textures, mandolin hammering home the punch line at the end of a brooding banjo solo. Fine and Fair, written by resonator guitarist/mandolinist Ned P. Rauch, bounces along through the woods with things falling and catching fire. Once again, it’s not clear exactly what happened, but it isn’t good. It builds to a witchy dance and then comes back to a suspenseful interlude held together by violinist Liz B. Rauch.

Opening with ominous harmonium and bells, Tell Me Where You Are, by the Rauches, tells a metaphorically loaded tale of a shipwreck victim searching in vain for her fellow lost soul. Widow Paris, sung by bassist Colin DeHond, is a creepy noir blues about a bereaved bride using voodoo to bring her dead husband back from the grave, Ned’s sonorous resonator solo handing off to Liz’s lively, bracing violin. Another Ned/Liz number, Flood Line, has a bitter oldtime folk feel as a very possibly doomed woman watches the water rise.

DeHond contributes two tracks: Place to Lay My Head, with a couple of surprisingly ornate, artsy, classically-tinged crescendos, and the jaunty, vengeful 99-percenter anthem Mr. Crook: “Nothing, that’s the best we can offer you, unless you want empty packs of cigarettes, hospital bills and credit debts,” the unemployed man tells the rich guy.

There’s also Appaloosa, a stark escape anthem; a surprisingly mellow, airy banjo-and-violin instrumental; and a couple of aphoristic, rustic, Appalachian-flavored Ned Rauch tracks that have the feel of classic hard-times ballads from the 1800s. One of the best albums of the year – just like last year. Oh yeah – just so you know, the Matt & Kim in this band are no relation to any other group by that name. Frankenpine’s next gig is at the Jalopy on Oct 12 at 9:30 PM.