Bleak lyrics to a menacingly heavy roots sound.
Frank From Blue Velvet sound as if they ply their trade deep in Appalachia so it comes as a surprise to learn they play the south coast pub circuit from their base in Hastings. On the strength of this debut album and the ambition of a project that blends layers of alt country, punk and gospel into a distinctive roots sound, Frank From Blue Velvet should find themselves playing bigger venues than the few parties they originally thought would be their lot.
Googling the name of this band and album reveals a 1986 film ‘Blue Velvet’, described as a “neo-noir mystery thriller” in which Frank is a pyschopath gangster. Whether there is any connection this is not a bad name for a band whose lyrics are laden with devils and angels, the human condition and all its foibles. Frank From Blue Velvet began as a duo of lead singer Andrew J Davies, who wrote most of the material and drummer, Ogs. Having recruited guitarist Andrew Francis and two backing vocalists the pandemic thwarted any further plans. But as restrictions were lifted this embryonic band went into overdrive adding bass, banjo and another backing singer. An EP release boosted numbers again so for the full album Frank From Blue Velvet had pedal steel, strings, brass and a choir. The sound is correspondingly big, atmospheric and highly effective.
‘Church of Prosperity’ opens with a foreboding banjo, very like The Dead South, as Davies launches into a tale of television evangelism. The nervous beat seems to echo the tv pastor’s guilt as he left his dirt-poor beginnings behind to fleece his viewers as, “And the Lord looked down and he spoke to me/ And I built a church and called it Prosperity”. Davies spits his contempt, “Let Jesus in your heart/ Give me your credit card”.
‘Snakepreacher’ continues the religious theme. Snake handling was a rite from early last century among a few churches in isolated parts of Appalachia. The snakes crushed by Davies’s preacher are his congregation as he leads a double life of unbridled hedonism. The humming backing vocals are the compliant folks in the pews as the harmonica laughs back at the hypocrisy of it all. This is very far from England’s south coast. In ‘The Devil Took My Girl’ Davies leads a chain gang dirge of vicious violence. Anything but pious, ‘Dude Ranch’ is a rockabilly swagger that could equally be titled Debauched Ranch.
Frank From Blue Velvet specialise in foreboding. ‘There’s A Storm (Storm Part 1)’ builds up the fear of impending doom, not just weather but the state of the nation, “Black clouds heading this old way/ There are…/ Rows of food shelves now all empty”. These ill winds blow into ‘The Apocalypse Nears (Storm Part 2)’. The relatively smooth vibe reflects the calm before the storm. The tension mounts as Davies gets into the mind of a cult leader warning, “Everyone get your guns we’re in for a bumpy ride”.
Frank From Blue Velvet close with the call and response of aptly titled ‘Pray For Me’. The repeated chant “Bad luck blues” to a similarly hymnal riff turns into a hypnotic exit from this powerful collection of songs.
If their image harks to times long gone on another continent, there is nothing outdated about Frank From Blue Velvet. This is music every bit for our times and this band demonstrate very ably the enduring power of the dark side of americana.