Bob Frank and John Murry
The Interesting Narrative of the Promising Career of
Bob Frank and John Murry,
Two Southern Musicians; as Collected and Compiled from a Variety of Documents and Tales.
Memphis, Tennessee native Bob Frank’s story is legend: as a young man he worked as a songwriter for Tree Publishing in Nashville and shared the stage with Tim Buckley and Townes Van Zandt. He signed to Vanguard Records to release one brilliant album in 1972, cussed label president Maynard Solomon at his record release show in New York City, and was promptly dropped from Vanguard’s roster. He reveled in his own obscurity for nearly 35 years, all the while writing songs with little interest in public opinion. In 2005, John Murry, an eccentric 26 year old songwriter from Tupelo, Mississippi and descendant of William Faulkner who had recently moved to California from the South, tracked down Bob Frank on the recommendation of a mutual friend. They quickly became friends and, seemingly just as quickly, began writing together.
The result was World Without End, an air-dried fever-dream of a record – not since Faulkner’s ruminations has the past seemed so dangerously relevant. The ten original ballads tell tales of murder long forgotten or distorted over time and endow the subject of Death with a uniqueness that is both vibrant and haunting, like Poe’s bug-infested sepulchers. Sonically the record is both dense and sparse, referencing America’s oldest music forms in one moment and destroying them the next. The production is equally interesting, from the overdriven organ and gypsy violin-fueled waltz about a young girl’s murder to the angry tympani, piano, slide guitar, bowed saw arrangement about a Mormon prophet’s killing. Greeted internationally with rave-reviews but relegated to cult status, World Without End may have been a bit too close to the truth for indie audiences; it may have proven too honest to be palatable to most. Without irony, World Without End breathes the air of unsure times. And therein lies the record’s timelessness, ladies and gentlemen: America is and has always been unsure of who and what it is and what it will become. Each of us has the potential to commit murder, justified or unjustified. There are guns in all our trunks. But if you listen to World Without End, you might rethink going on that rampage (if you listen to Brinkley, Ark. And Other Assorted Love Songs, on the other hand, you might consider an extra trip to Wal-Mart to stack up on ammo – but more of this later, all in due time and with the proper dramaturgy of chronology).
Before Bob and John went on tour in 2007, they recorded The Gunplay EP, which features live radio recordings, new tracks, and re-imaginings of traditional ballads, the centerpiece of which was the original “Gary Gilmore, 1977,” a somber, greasy piece of rock’n’soul that would have done Ronnie Van Zant proud.
In 2010, Bob and John re-donned their graveyard boots to record a song about police brutality and the average contemporary American patriot’s complicity in war crimes abroad and at home. The song, “The Murder of Dylan Hartsfeld” is based on a true story and came into being upon the personal request of the murdered Iraq vet’s father.
As their tours and interviews have shown, Bob Frank and John Murry challenge the status quo wherever they go – be it San Francisco, CA, Stockholm, Sweden, Oxford, MS, Glasgow, Scotland, Cardiff, Wales, or Köln, Germany. With gigs frequently punctuated with arguments and sometimes punches, their adventures abroad indicate that these two gentlemen are wildly intelligent, funny, annoying, sweet, confrontational, and at times belligerent – but never uninspired and never uninteresting.
(compiled by Georg Bauer, Graz, Austria, January 2010)