The Anatomy of Frank - South America

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-09-01

This album is a wonderful “symphonic ocean” of music, words, and emotions. It’s best described as art-folk. There’s nothing psychedelic about this album. But fans of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and Paul’s solo song “Duncan” will find a lot to love in these grooves. The acoustic cornerstone doubles as a walkway as the record explodes, from time to time, into guitar riffs and cinematic rock intensity.

Apparently, The Anatomy of Frank has vowed to record an album on every continent. North America was the initial stop. And this album South America is the second installment. Perhaps they will rue their intention when they get to Antarctica. But until then, AoF have left us with this jewel of a record.

In truth, this really isn’t a concept album. Main writer Kyle Woolard, while referencing many South American points of geography, really uses the local culture as a springboard for personal reflection. No, this isn’t like the music of the before-mentioned Paul Simon and his Graceland or Rhythm of the Saints. And it’s not Peter Gabriel’s “Biko.” It’s not World Music with backing local musicians creating a native vibe. Instead, it is an intensely human album that just happens to be recorded in Ecuador and just happens to concern all things that are intensely human: suicide, irony, wonder, guilt, tenacity, and perhaps, even joy.

In the beginning, there is “Ecuador.” It’s plaintive folk music with a lifting melody. Lovely harmony vocals swell the speakers. Then Kyle sings eight beautiful notes in a rather high register that quells all the intensity. This is absolutely beautiful music. I suppose I should suggest Art Garfunkel, but really, I feel a parallel moment to Jon Anderson’s vocal in Yes’s song “Soon.” And it’s that good.

Now the second song had me worried. It’s really hard to explain the how and the why of the situation, but somehow, many years ago, I was stranded for five days in a Franciscan Friars of Atonement resort cottage in Rhode Island.  As I recall, there was plenty of beer, a great beach, a lot of wicker furniture, several old Playboy magazines with really interesting articles, and a tube amplified portable record player with exactly two records: “Hula-Hula Girl,” and “The Girl from Ipanema.” Honestly, I don’t recall any B-sides.

But I vowed, after too many plays, to never listen to those songs again--ever. (For some odd reason, I never tired of the other stuff, especially those interesting articles.)

Yeah, you bet. The second song on this album is titled “The Girl from Ipanema.” So I was stymied. But that first song was so good. So I shook some dice and listened. Age, of course, erases any youthful convictions. Well, this isn’t a cover of the Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz’s Brazilian jazz tune that blessed the Atonement’s cottage. It isn’t even the Frank Sinatra crooned version. But this new song is really Kyle Woolard’s personal observations and reflections set in the geography, a geography where the landscape and culture blend like the sand and sea on which the Girl from Ipanema still walks, and is still very beautiful, even after all these years. That’s the ethos of this record: It isn’t what is expected; but then it becomes what is expected—just in a very different and quietly beautiful way.

The acoustic magic continues with “La Llorona,” another travelogue tune that becomes the deep pool reflection stuff about humanity’s soul. This song, in harmony with the absolutely gorgeous “Holy Mountain” and the tragic “Patagonia,” juxtapose a lyrical sadness against a hopeful (and often spritely) melody. That pathos contributes to the epic nature of this album. The great Bruce Cockburn who chronicled his own travels in Stealing Fire wrote, “Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.” This album doesn’t kick with any punky anger, but it does kick and, indeed some daylight is being bled.

Just so you know: I never really hated that Brazilian jazzy “Girl from Ipanema” song. I make a list on Sunday night of Songs that I don’t ever want to hear ever again. “Girl” has never been a consideration. But current contenders are “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas (its philosophy is too deep for me), “Ebony and Ivory” by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney (corporations are now people and apparently piano keyboards are, too), anything by Weird Al, and topping the listing this last week was Jethro Tull’s “Kissing Willie”(about which I have no comment whatsoever).

And just so you also know, this record is not just filled with slow-paced acoustic emotional bits. “How Do We Lose It” has a great electric grungy guitar that creates an exciting emotional bit. “The Landing of the Plus Ultra Flying Boat” uses horns to boost its infectious chorus into one of those Star Trek time reversing orbits that takes the Earth back to better days with late 60’s optimistic pop ‘n’ roll. The same is true for “To Keep Our Hands from Shaking.” This is joyous music. And “Simply Underwater” is even better. The excitement of the song bends the darkness of any night. All players in the band sympathetically create a work of art.  Kyle Wooland sings and plays guitar throughout the songs. Max Bollinger manages percussion to fit the many moods of this music. And Jimmy Bullis colors the tunes with keyboards. Listen to the heartfelt density in his playing on “Andes.”

I’m not certain anyone cares, but this record reminds me of the classic folk rock records of Chris Simpson and his band Magna Carta. They too elevated popular music to a level of artistic brilliance. Listen the Seasons or Lord of the Ages.

It all ends with the grand finale of “Viteri,” a song whose namesake is the Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Viteri (who contributed the album artwork). This isn’t the expected Don McLean: “Vincent” tribute. This is a brilliant song that intertwines three separate stories: a mother who can no longer sing; an injured brother; the importance of “twenty-five cents in change,” and it recalls all the great quiet tension that slow danced into the final inner grooves of classic rock records. This song is the sad and ironic tale of humanity as told by one human to another. It is superb songwriting.

That’s the stuff of great novels.

It’s also the stuff of great record albums.

This is a wonderful record. It’s a “symphonic ocean” of a wonderful record. It’s a “white as ocean foam” record; it’s a suffocating air in a hot bus record; it’s the glance when the last drop of water is gone record; it’s an absolutely lovely vocal album; it’s an album about South America; it’s an album about the world; it’s an album about tears, and it’s an album about bursting with conviction. And, ultimately, it’s an album about a few beautiful notes, a few notes common to us all, notes we have all heard; and finally, it’s about notes that continue to resonate quietly in a deep place in the human heart that just happens to pursue its rock ‘n’ roll beat on this good planet Earth.

 

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