Frank Black Honeycomb

Frank Black’s latest solo effort — his first without backing unit the Catholics since 1996’s Cult of Ray — finds the enigmatic Pixies front-man teamed up with legendary producer Jon Tivens and an A-list of veteran Nashville studio hands. The subdued nature of these 14 tracks suggests Black was not only reverent of the calibre and experience of assembled artists like Anton Fig, Spooner Oldham and Steve Cropper, but more than a little flattered by the level of interest, care and investment each musician brought to the studio over the four days of recording. He must have been a little tired of screaming along with the newly reunited Pixies, too, as there is nary a yelp to be heard from Mr. Francis’ remarkably restrained maw. That’s fine, as most of these alternately soulful and subtly-countrified songs probably wouldn’t have benefited from Black’s caterwaul anyway. The closest these proceedings come to rocking out here is a Springsteen-esque, mid-tempo trotter called "Go Find Your Saint,” and a bouncy, tongue-twistingly titled Doug Sahm cover, "Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day.” An aptly-titled duet with his ex-wife called "Strange Goodbye” serves as the disc’s best argument in favour of additional vocal takes, while a smooth, groovy cover of Dan Penn’s "Dark End of the Street” reveals Black’s hitherto unknown soul-man persona. In terms of arrangement and classic songwriting, this may well be Black’s best effort to date, which is saying something given the man’s considerable talents. Whatever the case, he definitely can’t be accused of riding any Pixies reunion coattails, as this set represents his furthest stylistic venture away from his old Boston band. (Back Porch)