Frank Bey – Back In Business
NOLA Blue Records – 2018
11 tracks; 43 minutes
Frank Bey’s story is one worth telling. Raised in Georgia, he started singing in his teens, joined Otis Redding’s revue at 17 where he learned stage craft and developed his soul singing style. Just as things looked good, a record deal went wrong and, disillusioned with music, Frank abandoned music for nearly 20 years. However, he started singing again in Philadelphia, then hooked up with Anthony Paule in San Francisco with whom he made three solid albums which garnered four BBMA nominations. Now, at 72 years of age, Frank has signed with NOLA Blue and recorded his fourth album with Tom Hambridge who has done such a terrific job with Buddy Guy in recent years. As with Buddy, Tom and his writing partner Richard Fleming have written six songs for Frank to sing, some of which seem to have a strong biographical content. Four songs come from combinations of Jeff Monjack (Frank’s guitarist in his Philly band), Kevin Frieson and Tanya Henry and there is a cover of a Mighty Sam McClain tune. Tom Hambridge directed proceedings from behind the drum kit, Rob McNelly is on guitar, Marty Sammon on keys (Buddy’s regular keyboard man) and bass duties are shared between Tommy MacDonald and Adam Nitti. Horns are added to four cuts by Max Abrams (sax) and Julio (trumpet) and Wendy Moten adds B/Vs to three songs.
The album opens with a bang as Frank announces that he is “Back In Business”, recounting some aspects of his life and that he is ready and able to make an impact; the band immediately shows its paces with great piano from Marty and a rousing solo by Rob. The horns join in on “Gun Toting Preacher”, the story of a man sent overseas in WW2 after a fight and then became a preacher but always had a weapon to hand; we eventually learn that this was Frank’s brother. A third Hambridge/Fleming tune “Take It Back To Georgia” slows the pace with Wendy’s harmony vocals and a fine lead vocal by Frank who recounts returning to his native state to work in construction and starts singing again. Frank’s voice is perfect for soulful ballads and Hambridge/Fleming have provided “The Half Of It”, a real tear-jerker which Frank delivers convincingly. The band rocks out on the stop-start “Better Look Out”, Rob delivering some exciting lead work but the final Hambridge/Fleming composition is perhaps the best of the lot. This one is a full band number in which Frank celebrates his love for which he can only “Blame Mother Nature”. Rob’s solo is excellent and the horns push the chorus, making it one of the standout tracks on the album.
The four songs from the Philly team fit in well with the Nashville songs: “Cookie Jar” and “Give It To Get It” are both funky numbers, the former a ‘salty’ song seasoned with the horns, the latter about a girl who follows the music wherever it takes her. “Ain’t No Reason” opens with Marty’s stately piano, a mid-paced ballad with the memorable line “there ain’t no reason just because it rhymes, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s not a crime. Every saint was a sinner and did his share of time”. Album closer “Yesterday’s Dreams” is a slow blues, a stripped back quartet performance that places Frank’s great voice front and centre and lets Rob show us his blues chops.
The cover of Kevin Berry and Mighty Sam McClain’s “Where You Been So Long” is excellent, a slow burner that builds from the first verse which has Frank singing over just guitar before the band joins in on verse two. The horns then arrive to beef up the chorus as the song develops into a full-on soul-blues with Frank’s impassioned vocals, Marty’s piano and Rob’s torrid guitar.
Since his return to recording in 2012 Frank Bey has produced a series of good albums and this one keeps up the momentum. A definite ‘must hear’ for fans of soulful vocalists.