Bad Out There
Jezebel Records, 2004
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/22/2005
If ever you needed evidence that music is best left to the musicians, free from record company interference, this album could stand as exhibit number one.
Frank Carillo is an accomplished studio musician who's played, composed and/or toured with acts including Peter Frampton, Carly Simon, Golden Earring and John Hammond, Jr. over the years, but experienced only brief flashes of record industry interest in his own work. Personally, my expectations upon coming across an album like this -- a self-released disc album from a veteran studio player who never got a decent break as a solo artist -- tend to be modest, based on the anticipated ratio of pent-up artistic frustration to actual creative talent.
Which just goes to show you what a crock expectations can be, because this album is one of the most impressive indie efforts I've heard this year, a collection of original songs that light up the sky with raw, beautiful, rootsy rock and roll in all its many colors and tones. It is, in short, as Springsteen-like as anything I've heard in quite a while.
Not that you go there right away upon hearing the opening title track, a growly blues stomper full of grit and determination. However, this seems to be just the set-up for track two, the truly magnificent "Red Queen," an anthemic poem about the redeeming power of love. Here in the opening stanza, the Springsteen tie becomes crystal clear: "Born on the back street where nobody breathes / Born from trial and trouble / Holding on tight to what you believe / 'Cause paradise always grows from the rubble." (Anybody for a chorus of "tramps like us"…?)
"Red Queen" -- all ringing guitars, gritty, impassioned vocals and spare, evocative lyrics -- sets the emotional tone for the rest of this disc, if not necessarily the musical one. Next up is the superb "Chapel Street," a slow-building mid-tempo number that comes off like a later-in-life rendezvous between the lead characters in "Thunder Road."
Moving beyond my facile Springsteen comparisons -- as you should -- you'll find a mother lode of different styles waiting: there's hard-edged rockers like "Whatcha Gonna Do (When The Levee Breaks)" and "All In Chains"; road-weary yet thoughtful cuts such as the lilting "Like A Photograph"; and deliciously dark humor in the abused-spouse revenge fantasy "With Her Pajamas On." Of note also are a pair of magnificent ballads -- the album-closing solo-piano number "If You Don't," and the elegaic "The Bluebird Is Gone," a song for a missing friend that seems like it might be intended for Carillo's old compadre Jimmy Dewar, best known for his work with Robin Trower.
Maybe the most remarkable nugget hidden in the latter reaches of this album, though, is the dazzling verbal collage "Wrong #," half-sung and half-spoken, full of brilliant details and wonderful lines like "My brother Andrew says in my head I'm always on a quest / Well, the quest part is the best part / So I hope I never find the answer." The banjo in the background -- an odd and wonderful choice - clinches this one's high memorability quotient.
Handling vocals and guitar, Carillo is aided and abetted throughout by his Bandeleros -- Karl Allweier on upright & electric bass, Eddie Seville on drums and Norman del Tufo on a variety of percussion instruments that add great texture to these songs. My recent musical acquaintance Chris Cubeta also helps out on production and a variety of instruments on several tracks.
To be honest, even with the praise I've heaped on this disc, I'm not sure I've done justice to what Frank Carillo has accomplished here. Bad Out There brims with the kind of raw, sincere, lovingly crafted roots-rock that blurs the line between gritty poetry and poetic grittiness. It's a class piece of work from an artist who's waited a long time for his moment in the sun. Your job now is to give it to him.
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