Ignore the tragic backstory if you can; it helps reduce the urge to treat this as uniform depression, which would do Mr. Frank quite a disservice. Because while his pensive voice certainly skews melancholic, there’s an impressive variety of moods here, from rousing anthem (“Don’t Look Back”) to gentle love song (“Kimbie”) to troubled driftwood (“Blues Run the Game”). And throughout it all, Jackson’s spindly guitar patterns never put a wrong foot forward.
Where the stakes get raised, though, is with a three-track core every bit as harrowing, wrenching, and dire as the album’s reputation. Between “Milk and Honey” and “Dialogue (I Want to Be Alone)”, Frank’s world crumbles, leaving a wispy sigh to haunt layers of gauze and cobweb. Speaking as a listener keen on hypnotic folk pulses, I’m simply awed by how effortless the winding knots of “My Name Is Carnival” are.
So, when Jackson shudders on from his brush with the shadows, it can catch you off-guard, especially when the song in question lets the sun in as much as “Just Like Anything” does. (Which isn’t a ton, but I digress.) Still, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the man has been shaken. I can’t tell whether a line like “death has no season/so I know I’ll never die” is reassuring or doomed, and that ambiguity makes the LP’s opening tracks all the more troubling when you come back around.