When people hear that Frank Black (a.k.a. Black Francis, born Charles Thompson) has looked to the past for new material, most immediately conclude that the elusive Mr. Black is trying to recapture the seminal glory that was the Pixies, the revolutionary band he fronted through the late 1980s until 1991.
But those people are wrong.
Though Dog in the Sand (What Are Records?), the new album from Frank Black and the Catholics, is a looking-back, the nostalgic aim is only peripherally the Pixies, rather owing more allegiance to mid-era Rolling Stones and the relative recording limitations of the 1950s and 60s.
The venerable Frank Black, sans Catholics, will be in Philadelphia on Friday night at the North Star Bar at 27th and Poplar to perform an acoustic show in support of the new album.
Though it’s unlikely that he’ll drag out any Pixie retreads, the slightest possibility that he might is enough to entice many fans. His solo efforts bear up nicely, nonetheless, and Black’s personality is more than enough to fill up a venue as intimate as the North Star.
If Black’s fresh musical vision were not enough of an attraction, his un-derived sense of humor is worth the price of admission alone. In most ways, Frank Black walks alone, and ahead of the mainstream.
Since the breakup of the Pixies in 1991, Black’s following has grown smaller and tighter, more favorable to scaled-down live appearances and more receptive to the songwriter’s recent experimentation.
The new album is more of an experiment of limitations than anything, as Black and his cohorts abandoned the luxuries of modern recording for an authentic sound.
Black recorded Dog in the Sand live to two-track, with no editing or overdubbing. And since he was going for a larger, classic rock sound, many of the arrangements are six pieces and up, including very un-Pixies instruments like the pedal steel guitar, straight piano, and the banjo.
The signature effect of Dog in the Sand is one of a whole lot of instruments finding delicate grooves of influence. No one player, even Black on vocals, is allowed to run wild.
When listening to Dog in the Sand, it isn’t difficult to imagine a recording studio virtually bursting with world-class rock musicians who are working for nobler ambitions than usual.
The sound Frank Black gave to the world via the Pixies is in there however, especially on songs like “Robert Onion,” the album’s first single offering. Black’s twisted and jarring lyrics are familiar, and the rhythms between loud and soft playing are reminiscent of the Pixies genius.
Frank Black. Fri., February 2, 9 p.m. $15. With Reid Paley. North Star, 27th and Poplar St. 215-684-0808. www.northstarbar.com