Black Letter Days

The second album released is entitled Devil’s Workshop and will be reviewed later.

This year has seen several popular songwriters release two albums simultaneously (Tom Waits, Bob Mould), and now former Pixies front man Frank Black joins the group. Although Black doesn’t bare his punk teeth much any more, he is still adept at some of the best hooks and memorable vocal phrasing in rock—though his style might now be described as an alt-rock version of Tex-Mex. All of his albums are now recorded live to two-track, bolstering the reputation he has forged as a consistent live performer since his solo career began—or in other words, what you hear is what you get.

With the solid backing crew of the Catholics (featuring former Captain Beefheart keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman in addition to two capable pedal steel/guitar players), Black is in fine form here as he rips through 18 rollicking, working class songs about heartbreak and road trips (no trademark aliens this time), displaying the ease of a fully mature songwriter confident in his abilities.

As a solo artist, Black has toured almost nonstop in small clubs around the globe, and his writing reflects a thick, road weary skin (from the title track: "every day I work/ every day’s the same … don’t fret your poor heart/ it’s just another long Black letter day"). Other highlights include the Bowie-esque "Jane the Queen of Love," a nod to early Stones, "Cold Heart of Stone," and the jazz-tinged, "How You Went So Far." The whole thing is enjoyable from start to finish—with the opener and closer consisting of different versions of another Californian’s classic song, Tom Waits’ "The Black Rider," currently a Catholics concert staple.