What do you call someone who is almost forgotten, with only one album to his name, but whose music has been covered by the likes of Nick Drake, Simon & Garfunkel and Sandy Denny ? What do you call someone who has suffered tragedy within a life that can be best described as … well, a tragedy ?
Folk Blues isn’t the sort of music you’d come across anywhere and my first encounter with Jackson Frank was with ‘Dialogue’ and ironically through the very forgettable movie Electroma, directed by Daft Punk. The reasons for putting myself through it are mine alone, for which I consent to being chastised later, but I do not regret it.
The song ‘Dialogue’, also called ‘I want to be alone’ seems to carry itself on its own through space. Its haunting tune, once inside your head, hides among other memories that you would have chosen to put away in that particular corner. The strumming pattern here, isn’t a Gordian Knot, but will definitely bring a wistful smile to the discerning ear. There is a certain finesse and an air of near-perfection that hangs about it. Jackson Frank’s lyrics are powerful, even out of the musical context in which they flourish. The intensity of the emotions that would have prompted words such as “Changes that were not meant to be/ Tow the hours of my memory” and “The tears of a silent rain/ Seek shelter on my broken pain” or perhaps even to begin a song with ‘I want to be alone’, is beyond comprehension. The burst of emotion in this song, to which only tears can applaud loud enough, never overflows the boundaries of the notes, but digs so deep as to make the surface seem still. This can be regarded as a unique song, because even Jackson Frank was quoted as saying he would never again make a song as ‘serious’ as ‘Dialogue’. Obviously, he had let too much of his heart spill out, but that was just this one time.
A closer look at Jackson C. Frank brought me to the better known (and covered) ‘Milk and Honey’ in which he is at his most defining element; a soft, mellow and angelic sound that he weaves through his strings. The imagery of his words are calculated to be beyond words. No other stream of words could have better steered a mind in the direction he sought to take it. The song is, on the whole, something that you would hold close to the heart for the consolation it carries.
One of my preferred songs is ‘Relations’, perhaps because it has helped me through some pensive solitude (during which, I strongly recommend that you do NOT listen to ‘Dialogue’). This is one of his lighter songs, if you could call it that, since it isn’t laced with the minor chords that he usually plays. The satisfaction and calmness which come about as an aftertaste is a very stark contrast to the bittersweet thread that runs in ‘Blues run the game’ and ‘Here come the blues’. Then again, it is ‘Blues run the game’ that has been covered on more than one occasion. In ‘Yellow Walls’, which has also been covered often, he maintains the same channeled expression of emotion that reverberates in ‘My name is carnival’. ‘Marlene’ comes close to ‘Dialogue’ but is more descriptive and mournful.
His other songs such as ‘Kimbie’, ‘You never wanted me’ and ‘Marcy’s song’ have found favour elsewhere, but do not strike as strongly as his other songs. ‘Don’t look back’, while being defiant bites back on the pain of the very struggle within which defiance comes to play. It references Medgar Wiley Evers, a black civil rights activist who was shot; an event that measured high on the social Richter scale, in Jackson Frank’s time.
Jackson Frank’s emotions and thoughts, or what could even be termed, philosophy, with respect to life, love, relationships, rejection and pain cover a wide range on the emotional spectrum. In all, it is thus not incorrect to say that, Jackson C. Frank is perhaps the most underrated and least remembered musician of the last century, who deserves a lot more. His music expresses a degree of darkness, pain and anguish rarely attained in music of this genre. His songs exhibit a degree of restrained expression and subtlety, both from his guitar strings and his voice, which only serve to deepen the reality of the darkness he conveys. He died a day older than 56 but left a legacy that is worth preserving forever.
Jackson C. Frank’s self titled album, is a little candy box of emotions worth protecting and savouring once in a while and an experience worth writing about. His songs live up to his name in their expression without ever going overboard. Now, what do you call music that sounds right ? Yup. Jackson C. Frank’s.
- Braggadocio Al
More FOLKsy food for the soul HERE.