NOTE TO SHELF: Surf Put The Camera Into A Solo Frame.
Today I’m starting a new feature on the Pulmyears Music Blog: Note To Shelf, where I recommend or just blather on about a recording that’s on my shelf that I feel you should know about. I won’t do this everyday but when I do, it will be about recordings that “glow” or scream “play me” when I walk by the shelf (or the virtual iTunes shelf).
Today I want to recommend Surf (2002), the second solo album by Aztec Camera mainstay, Roddy Frame.
I had first become acquainted with Roddy’s songs shortly after Aztec Camera released their 1983 album High Land, Hard Rain, which featured such memorable tracks as “Walk Out To Winter” and “Oblivious”:
Aztec Camera followed that up with the Mark Knopfler produced album Knife (198 ), which quickly became one of my fave albums of that era, for the popular songs “Still On Fire” and “All I Want Is Everything”, but particularly for the acoustic deep cut “The Birth Of The True” which remains one of the Songs I Wish I’d Written Myself™
You see, what I liked about that acoustic song was that, removed from the frigid 80s production which frankly dates the Aztec Camera albums (hardly diminishing their songwriterly appeal, FYI), “Birth…” announced that Frame was a true Elvis Costello protégé, the lad could back it up with nothing but six strings and an affable Scottish lilt.
I stayed true to Aztec Camera and dutifully bought all their recordings, Love (1987), Stray (1990), Dreamland (1993) and Frestonia (1995), and I particularly dug the singles from Stray, “The Crying Scene” and Roddy’s duet with B.A.D.’s Mick Jones, “Good Morning Britain” which neatly combined Jones’s post-hip-hop of with Frame’s anthemic melodicism:
Shortly after Frestonia, I stopped hearing from Roddy Frame. Rumours abounded that he was sick or dying or that the music business had turned off another great songwriter, flattened under the “star-making machinery”.
What I didn’t realize was that in 1998, Frame had done his first proper solo album, The North Star, which I never even heard about until later. What a shame, because when I finally heard it, I realized that my boy was fine, thriving in fact. Here’s Frame doing a song from that record, “Bigger, Brighter, Better” from Jools Holland’s Later:
For me, though, the first signs that Roddy was alive came in 2002 when I read some UK magazines making exciting noises about Surf.
After the studio excesses of London and L.A., Roddy was ready, emotionally and economically, to just grab a guitar, a good mic and a recording unit then press play and go for it.
Sitting in his front room, Frame made an intimate recording that could well be to his own career what Blue was to Joni Mitchell, or possibly what Nebraska was in the context of the entire Springsteen discography.
Described in various media sources as a “break-up album” , critic Jon Horsley wrote in Q magazine of Surf‘s “Simplicity… displaying Frame’s deft hand with a lyric and mastery of direct songwriting. Best of all is Frame’s now beautifully mature voice.”
Critical praise was pretty much across the board on both sides of the Atlantic.
Critic Andy Gill, in The Independent’s spotlighted “Frame’s slightly sour vocals” which he compared to a young Jesse Winchester, yet ultimately seemed to be put-off by the album’s personal intensity. Personally, I felt like it was like taking a personal submarine into the depths of a troubled sea, safe in the hands of an adroit mariner.
Since Surf, Roddy has continued to make solid, distinctive original music and I could recommend the subsequent Western Skies (Redemption, 2006), Live at Ronnie Scott’s (2006), and Live at The Blue Note, Osaka (2007).
But for me, the solo Frame CD that jumps off my shelf most often seems to be Surf. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
And that’s today’s Note To Shelf™