Photo: Dylan Weller
FRANKIE & JIMMY
Blues, Bop and Beelzebub: Frankie and Jimmy’s Fiery Blues on the Brain
The blues is the original devil’s music. The style has given rise to songs of temptation and salvation played and appreciated by generations of lost souls and those who have lost their souls. It is an eternal dance between freedom and oppression, Heaven and Hell. Blues on the Brain, the newest album from Hamilton duo Frankie and Jimmy dances mostly in Hell, with a few moments reminding the listener of the beauty at the heart of the blues. The band offers thirteen ugly, fiery covers of traditional blues songs performed in a style aesthetically and sonically informed by more modern devil’s music like punk rock and metal. Blues on the Brain, is steeped in blues tradition but is ultimately a creation all its own.
The Hell explored by Frankie and Jimmy is more fun than the Hell that motivated their inspirations. Many of the songs on Blues on the Brain are very upbeat for blues tunes. This feature is suited to, or responsible for singer Jim Fitzgerald’s very amusing finger wagging and hip bouncing bop during live performances. These guys do not take themselves too seriously. The album’s cover features cartoon versions of Fitzgerald and guitarist Frank Adamczyk as anthropomorphic hot peppers drinking from coconuts while bathing in the molten brains of a scalped Satan. The illustration is a clever plug for the band’s personal brand of organic hot sauce called Burn the Blues Away. Beneath the disk lies an image of the band in corpse paint, a make-up style nicked from the deadly serious, sometimes satanic Black Metal subgenre. The often hateful and Hellish Black Metal imagery is here hilarious and self-aware and in suspenders. The band’s understanding of the blues and Hell is informed, genuine and explored with a very campy aesthetic. It takes a couple of listens before Frankie and Jimmy reveal themselves as the serious musicians they are, before one can understand their passion for blues and the skillful way in which they have electrocuted and reanimated this traditional genre.
The songs on Blues on the Brain are all traditional blues covers, save “lil Red Riding Hood” written by Ronald Blackwell in the 1960s. The album leads with its most extreme offering. A screeching cover of Bukka White’s “Shakemondown” blasts the listener into the most frantic and deranged parts of Frankie and Jimmy’s world. A noisy and challenging tune, the song’s light speed harmonica, slide guitar and garbled vocals assault the listener. Later highlights include a cover of Big Bill Broonzy’s arrangement of “Stand Your Test In Judgement” a fun, bouncy, grungy trip through a spiritual standard. Here the band takes the audience to junkyard church to wash away their sins. Jim Fitzgerald’s nasal, hollered vocals are unexpectedly suited to the religious material. A cover of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Babe It Ain’t No Lie” is a soft and folksy break from the electric chaos of much of the album. Fitzgerald’s clean vocals and Adamczyk’s finger picked guitar solidify the band’s strong ties to the country blues tradition. “Babe It Ain’t No Lie” is not a freak out or a stomper, or a blues circus, but simply an expression of the roots from which Frankie and Jimmy’s “sliding demento delta blues” have sprouted.
Frankie and Jimmy present the blues in Hell. Theirs is a warped, ugly, yet thrilling blues. From this collection of whining and hollering, guitar-screeching and harmonica-huffing emerges a new and invigorating sound of the blues on fire. Like early Captain Beefheart, this sound is rooted very much in tradition but is too extreme and experimental to be called traditional blues. The music has attracted fans of punk rock and metal as much as it has traditional blues fans. Frankie and Jimmy have aligned themselves with the Do It Yourself music scene in the GTA and they fit in well there. These men have competently injected something completely unique and all their own into very traditional music. The band’s knowledge and skillful application of different elements of the blues tradition ground this bizarre duo in a place of authenticity. They are convincing.
Frankie and Jimmy’s Blues on the Brain is a rewarding if sometimes challenging listen. The two men are steeped in the blues and create genuinely believable music as a result. The album is fun, its cartoon evil. It’s a sturdy bridge between a century old musical tradition and a budding DIY music scene. Blues on the Brain is one Hell of a party.