Whatever god dreamed up Jackson C. Frank’s fate must have been in a pretty morbid mood.
Scarred for life in a school fire that killed his girlfriend and a dozen other classmates, he came into a huge sum of insurance money at 21. He later lost a son to disease and an eye to a child playing with a pellet-gun. Wrestling with depression, his money long dissipated, he was homeless for a while and died of natural causes in 1999. By then, his fame as a folksinger was no more than a vague memory.
In 1965, Frank recorded his first and only album in London, with Paul Simon taking production duties. It was warmly received by the folk press but didn’t sell quite well enough to please the record company. Still, the collection of introspective folk songs managed to make a lasting impression on musicians like Simon himself, Sandy Denny and Nick Drake, who covered several of his songs.
Though it’s almost fifty years since they were recorded, the ten songs on Jackson C. Frank — seeing reissue now on vinyl — have lost none of their appeal. There’s a moody intensity to the singing and songwriting that lifts them far above the period pieces of the time.
“Blues Run the Game” is perhaps the best-known track and contains some of his most memorable lines: “Send out for whiskey baby, send out for gin,” he sings over a simple finger-picking pattern. “Me and room-service honey, we’re living the life of sin.”
Other highlights include the anguished “Here Come the Blues” (“no bottle of pills babe, can kill this pain”) and the beautiful folk ballad “Milk and Honey.” Like Nick Drake’s recordings, Jackson C. Frank is an album for quiet evenings alone. There’s a darkly introspective quality to the material that seems made for solitary listening. “I want to be alone, I want to touch each stone, feel the grave that I have grown,” the singer himself declares in “I Want to Be Alone/Dialogue.”
Jackson C. Frank later re-appeared on an album by his former lover Sandy Denny. Her 1971 song “Next Time Around” includes the lines: “Who wrote me a dialogue set to a tune? Always you told me of being alone,” as well as: “And then I’ll turn, and he won’t be there.” It’s a cryptic but beautiful tribute to a troubled artist, whose life was haunted by misfortune. Though he only recorded the one album, Jackson C. Frank deserves to be remembered as a master of haunting and bluesy folk music.
Latest posts by Kasper Nijsen (see all)
- Forgotten series: Judee Sill – Heart Food (1973) - February 5, 2014
- Jackson C. Frank – Jackson C. Frank (1965; 2014 reissue) - January 24, 2014
- Sammy Walker – Sammy Walker; Blue Ridge Mountain Skyline (2014) - January 23, 2014