One Track Mind: Bill Frisell "Live To Tell" (1992)

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by Mark Saleski

Bill Frisell has often been referred to as the mad scientist of the guitar. His good friend Gary Larson goes the idea one better, that Frisell has a team of mad scientists living inside of his brain. The notion is a funny one, because the stereotype of the wild-haired & wild-mannered man in the lab is about as far from Frisell’s personality as you can get. Still, the sounds that he conjures with his array of effects does make a person wonder.

And yet, it’s not just the sonics Frisell produces that can turn any album or song into a thing of wonder. Yes, there are widely varying tonalities, from tender whispers to jolting distortions…but it doesn’t end there. Frisell seems to hear things differently than most, and it’s this ability that allows him to not just cover a song, but distill it down to its essence.

On Have A Little Faith, Frisell took on an amazingly diverse set of composers and tunesmiths, from Aaron Copeland to Bob Dylan to Madonna.


Yes, this take on “Live To Tell” strips away everything but the melody and its development. Coming in at a little over 10 minutes, Frisell accentuates both the pretty rising melody and and its signature descending three-note motif. That is, until all hell breaks loose and the team of mad scientists unleash a beast of noise and entropy. What’s most interesting is that you can still hear fragments of the original song living inside the squall.

Startled listeners might wonder how Frisell got from pastoral folk with country leanings to such full-on bluster. I don’t have the exact answer but it does seem that part of his listening ability allows him to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated musics. Apparently, there is a line to be drawn between Jimmie Rogers and King Crimson…and it goes through Madonna. Go figure.

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