Death is rarely, if ever favorable. It is usually the uninvited dinner guest, the one clearing its throat awkwardly, checking its watch, bumping your legs with its feet under the table and bringing up the wrong things at the wrong times. It's spoken of in hushed tones and given all of the credit it deserves for its destructive force, for its hollow manner. The choice to abide is never voluntary, just as a rough river's current doesn't let you simply wade in and remain standing. It will knock you on your ass and make you choke on some gushing, a mouthful of it. The umbrage that is taken with the mortal condition is firmly planted in the idea that it's a form of injustice, that it always happens to someone who didn't deserve it just yet. Those are the deaths that impact us more deeply than others, those that bait us into cursing them and whoever is responsible for their callous heart.
Frank Smith, a band, not a man, is well-suited for a response or a rebuttal to all of this, or perhaps a collaboration with the idea. Within the very firmament of the former six-piece, then two-piece, now reformed six-piece in its new home in Austin, Texas, is a commiseration with the part of death that, while remaining fertile for sadness in minor and unknown intervals, dulls like our sight over time. It diminishes, but like the smell of moth balls takes you back to the pantry or closet of your grandmother's home as it was when you were a child or the healed scar on your cheek from that trip to the emergency room reminds you of all the blood that you saw that afternoon, it remains a stubborn little ambush, just waiting for it's reoccurrence. Old songs - like the ones on last year's Heavy Handed Peace and Love -- find the death line lurking like a shadow, but it's never used as a scare, just that matter-of-fact deal that it is. It causes grief and pain, but it needs to be dealt with.
Drinks become a man's best friend - replacing the floppy-eared dogs with out the tolerance to keep up and those eyes that are more needy and selfish than anything. The drinks - the friendly ones - don't want anything in return and these guys - the mainstays of lead singer Aaron Sinclair and banjo player Brett Saiia - are willing to hear them out, with a stance on the subject that looks at remorse as an inconvenience that needs some harmony to be properly coped with. They battle silences, the open spaces that someone else filled with words and warmth before. They rush at that empty feeling and shake their fists with as much rage as they can rightfully manage. Sinclair's vocals carry the same therapeutic qualities of a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup (you may have knowledge of them from similar qualities in the hands of Mr. M. Ward) and yet there's often a sense that he's already had the gravedigger shovel a single, symbolic shovelful of dirt onto his still twitching body. He's fighting and he's broken, the death card winning the best two out of three on him and gloating. It's never unanimous though, so the game goes on, putting Sinclair through the ringer and through the boiler.
He's got a close association with the man in black, singing about cutting a heart into fourths, leaving three of the pieces in Texas and the rest up north, then going on, "Leave the body out to rot/Put the head in a box." He sings this on "Put Me In A Hole," a new song debuted here, that is a dazzling sign of the things to come from the new incarnation of the band. It alludes that we're always surrounded by more gray than black and white, that there have to be sacrifices, that there are trade-offs, that someone has to die to make this count, that there are no free passes and we can't all just smell roses and believe that to be the regular old everyday scent of the air. These are the lessons of the old-timers, the ones who still go to the same barber for a shave and a cut once a week whether they need it or not and just chew the fat - the ones who find the highs and the lows misleading, but the bigger worries of the melting clock, the evaporating calendar ominous and unavoidable. They could scream, but what would the worth be? Everyone sees it coming and everyone knows the punctuation.
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