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Jackson C. Frank—8

 

Released: 1965

1) Blues Run The Game  2) Don't Look Back  3) Kimbie  4) Yellow Walls  5) Here Comes the Blues  6) Milk and Honey  7) My Name Is Carnival  8) I Want To Be Alone  9) Just Like Anything  10) You Never Wanted Me 

BONUS TRACKS:  11) Marlene  12) Marcy's Song  13) The Visit  14) Prima Donna of Swans  15) Relations 

 

In the winter of 1954 in tiny Cheektowaga, upstate New York, eleven-year old Jackson C. Frank barely escaped burning alive in a tragic school accident.  During music class in the auditorium, a faulty furnace exploded killing 18 students almost instantly.   Jackson, actually on fire with flames engulfing his clothes and bare skin, somehow made it outside where his terrified classmates covered him in snow to put out the blaze.  He was burned so badly that he spent the next seven months in a hospital slowly recovering. 

 

His elementary experience haunted Frank throughout his schooling, and he struggled with depression through his teen years.  However, he did play his guitar frequently and became so proficient that he performed at a few Buffalo coffeehouses with one his closest friends, an East German immigrant named John Kay (later the leader of Steppenwolf).  After high school, Jackson spent the next year playing local bars and clubs, and trying to decide whether or not to go to college.  Before he could make his decision though, Jackson was given a large insurance payment of $100,000 in 1964 (which would be well over a half a million dollars today) from his burns received ten years previous. 

 

A true car nut, Frank sailed to London on the Queen Elizabeth liner with a suitcase full of money to buy an expensive Jaguar, and on the trip, he penned his first original tune, “Blues Run The Game.  He arrived in London just in time for the “Swinging 60s,” bought an Ashton Martin and a Bentley, and spent his money with little care for the future.  He began playing at folk clubs all throughout London where he met and began dating future Fairport Convention lead singer Sandy Denny.  Denny eventually introduced Jackson to two fellow Americans trying to make it in the London folk scene, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.  Simon liked Jackson Frank’s original material so much he offered to produce his first record, which they recorded in less than 3 hours at a CBS studio on Bond Street in London. 

 

The album opens with Frank’s first and best-known tune, “Blues Run the Game.”  This is a painfully sad song with heartbreaking lyrics.  The music, just a little fingerpicking folk riff repeated for three and a half minutes, is oddly haunting and the last verse sums up the entire mood, “Maybe tomorrow honey/Some place down the line/I'll wake up older/And I'll just stop all my trying.”  Don’t Look Back” is a typical freedom folk song.  Like all of these types of songs, the lyrics are good, but the music is just there…I’m sure it was very moving in the 60s, but it hasn’t aged well. 

 

Kimbie,” a traditional song arranged by Frank, is sung with pleading passion.  It is similar to Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” and although not up to that standard, it is a beautiful little song.  Yellow Walls” features Al Stewart on second guitar and although it tries hard, it doesn’t succeed in delivering enough feeling to make the track standout.  Conversely, “Here Comes The Blues” packs so much punch in its four minutes, you wish it wouldn’t end.  The album’s highlight, this tune also features Frank’s most famous lyric, "...no bottle of pills baby/Could kill this pain.”  Stark, harrowing stuff. 

 

Milk and Honey” has a Jim Croce, “Time In A Bottle” style (although not nearly as catchy), but is about discarding love instead of cherishing it.  It does tend to drag a bit, but isn't quite filler.  "My Name is Carnival" has an excellent melody and lyrics and, based on interviews, was probably Frank’s favorite song he ever wrote.  It is bouncy, yet despondent, with a memborable chorus and really is a great tune.  "I Want To Be Alone," despite being just as the title suggests (dreary, dark, gentle, and introspective), is a very good song with an alluring performance.  Masquerading as a children's song, "Just Like Anything" is a seriously depressing tune, with its seemingly simple imagery and well played guitar fills.  The lryics to You Never Wanted Me” are straight forward, but push a good song to great with their wit and killer final line—a very curt way to end the song and the album.             

                    

After the album was completed, Jackson spent the next two years living off his insurance check, playing some small clubs in Engalnd and in America, developing material for a second album.  However, his record label dropped him from lack of sales, so with no money and no prospects, Frank decided to settle down and make a life in Woodstock, New York.  The details of Frank’s life at this point become sketchy.  What is known is that he worked as an editor for a paper and was apparently married briefly to a former model with whom he had a son.  The child died shortly after birth from cystic fibrosis, pushing Frank so deep into depression that he had to be institutionalized.  Sometime in this period, Frank went to a studio in Woodstock, put down some money and recorded a few demos and ideas he was working on (five of which are included on the 2002 reissue of “Jackson C Frank” and are essential). 

 

Marlene” is bizarre…a tough, hard-hitting acoustic blues song.  Frank’s voice is amazing on this track compared with the material on the first album.  There he had a nice voice…polished in a way, and sweet.  But here, he’s not the suddenly rich kid from 1965…he’s road weary and desperate.  In “Marcy’s Song” too he sounds lost and defeated.  The music is a swirling guitar riff, but it is his voice that is most important here…you can feel his aching.  The Visit” and “Prima Donna Swan” sound more like the first album musically, but they each have that undercurrent that take them from beautiful to unsettling.  They are both far too long, but still have enough bite to make them worth while.  Relations” has a totally different sound than everything else in Frank’s catalog with chord and time changes, and a sing-along chorus.  It has a melody that sticks in your head and easily could have been a hit record.  It is somewhat similar to Big Star's "Watch the Sunrise," but even more melodic--this is Frank's best ever song and all you musicans reading this looking for an old song to salvage into a current hit, look no further, cause this song has a down home, rootsy, timelessness.                 

 

Despite their obvious quality, these demos failed to materialize into an album.  Frank, broke and crushed, moved all throughout the country, eventually going back to live with his parents in Buffalo in the late 1970s.  Sometime later, he took a bus trip to New York City in hopes of finding Paul Simon to revive his career, but never was able to contact his former producer.  Jackson cut off contact with his family and friends who assummed he was dead and spent the next 15 odd years living on the streets.  He begged for food, and dropped in and out of medical institutes, where he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

 

A Woodstock folk-lover tracked down Frank in 1994 and tried to help him back on his feet.  By this time, the virtually penniless Frank was suffering from an untreated parathyroid malfunction that caused his weight to balloon up to 280 pounds, and he was blind in his left eye, having been shot in the face in a hit and run in Queens.  A short time later, Jackson C. Frank passed away, aged 55.  While his total career catalog counts one, ten song album released in his lifetime, it constitutes a major body of work influencing artists such as Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Counting Crows who have all covered Frank’s songs.  

 

If the bonus material hadn’t been included on the reissue of his debut, and the album only consisted of the original ten songs, it would get a rating of 7 from me.  The music is just generally too uniform, although consistently pleasant.  But with the bonus tracks, the album rises up to an 8 overall and turns a very good folk album into a personal emotional offering.

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