Web Exclusive! Review of the Day ? Frank Smith: Heavy Handed Peace and Love

Frank Smith
Frank Smith-01-01.jpg
Heavy Handed Peace and Love

Ye Olde Records

Grade: ****

Picking as generic a name as possible, the band Frank Smith (that’s right, it’s a band, not a solo act) doesn’t strive for anonymity on Heavy Handed Peace and Love.

The banjo-inflected, soft twang of “Put Some Curtains Up” and “Throwin’ Rocks,” with its gentle melodic drift and sun-dappled atmosphere, would stand out as flowers among the weeds of Wilco imitators choking the growth of the alt.-country genre, as would the warm acoustic-folk charm of “Planes And A Girl.”

There’s nothing particularly innovative or unique about any of them, and yet, they draw you in, like the smell of a hot pie left to cool on the windowsill. Influenced by Gram Parsons, like everybody else in the alt.-country game, but caught between the Wilco of A.M. and Being There, Frank Smith sets itself apart with its cock-eyed storytelling, the honesty of its songwriting, and the beguiling interplay of slide-guitar, delicately plucked banjo and acoustic strum on slower tracks like “Virtually Happy” and “Ortiz Again.”

Dipping its toes in the crystal-clear, power-pop waters of Wilco’s Summerteeth, Frank Smith gets electric, and a bit cynical, when getting tangled up in the troubling sexual politics of “Home Is Where You Leave It.” But that’s the exception rather than the rule.

Most of Heavy Handed Peace and Love wanders gracefully from one stately folk-pop number to the next in a sort of Tennessee waltz of sequencing. And yet, there are thorns, like the sharp, barbed bit of distortion of “Ortiz Again,” and a coldness to the shimmering beauty of “A Liar And A Thief.”

Frank Smith may sound like an alias, but their tradition-bound music is as real as it gets.

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