Graded on a Curve:
Frank Hurricane,
Life Is Spiritual

While I can’t claim to be an expert on the breadth of the man’s output, it suffices to say that Frank Hurricane works in recognizable territory while being in a class by himself. His latest is a further refinement of his singular approach as released through a steady stream of cassettes, CDRs, and vinyl since the beginning of the decade. Setting certain aspects of his method mostly aside, perhaps temporarily, Hurricane continues to zero in on the psychedelic, the folky, the laidback, and the eccentric. Life Is Spiritual is out now on vinyl in an edition of 1,000 as a split release from Feeding Tube and Crash Symbols.

Here are some things I have learned about Frank Hurricane. He is an excellent fingerpicker. He likes to swap the vowel i for the sometimes y in words, but not always, so that the title of his 2012 cassette is Night Tyme Vybes. His ’16 release Pymp World (released first on tape, next on CDR and available now on LP through Ultra Eczema) comes with the description “THIS IS THA NEW FRANK HURRICANE TAPE! POP, FOLK, COUNTRY, HIP-HOP, AND COMEDY! MY FAVE THING I’VE DONE IN A LONG TYME!” He enjoys hiking.

More stuff: He is fond of the descriptors “holy,” “psychedelic, “gangsta,” and “off the chain,” and he frequently ends sentences with “dog,” or more appropriately “dawg,” and “man,” pronounced “mane” like Al Pacino in Brian De Palma’s rap culture cornerstone Scarface. Hip-hop is indeed a component in his overall thing, exclusively so on the 2012 CDR EP “Flowin Internal” (released under one of his alternate monikers, Gangsta Love), though his style is decidedly lo-fi, captured direct to cassette and using the presets of an archaic Casio keyboard. He’s from the “Dirty South,” most recently Tennessee.

Upon initially soaking up Frank Hurricane’s reality, I had more than a couple of moments where it was debatable whether or not he was “for real.” This relates to the comedy aspect mentioned as part of Pymp World, but which came through for me strongest in the “story” tracks on his 2013 2LP Quintorian Blues. That one seems to be his first release for Feeding Tube.

But after taking a deeper drink of what Frank has to offer, the realness becomes unquestionable, though please don’t confuse him with the Real People “genre,” for if certainly exuding a good-vibes strangeness, Hurricane doesn’t register to me as Outsider or naïve. Part of the reason is that he can really play, with his Feeding Tube releases nicely accentuating his adeptness on guitar. If pressed to place Hurricane in the vicinity of a stylistic bag, it would be as a descendant of the whole Freak Folk shebang that was kinda winding down (not really, though) just as he began releasing material.

Pymp World provides a good dose of the guy’s totality (I’m assuming; I haven’t experienced everything) as Quintorian Blues (credited to Hurricanes of Love) doesn’t include any hip-hop tracks at all (and yet the rap influence is still quite tangible). In 2015, Feeding Tube released Fuck Wit It High: A Mystical Gangsta’s Reflection Vol. 1 (Pympstrumental); I’ve yet to soak up its essence, but as it’s divided into side-long tracks titled “A” and “B, ” it’s safe to assume it emanates from his one-man lo-fi hip-hop zone (the title aids in this impression, obviously).

The next Feeding Tube release, one I have heard, is 2017’s Mountain Brew Light, and it really intensifies his blend of increasingly mystical psych-folk, American Primitive-style guitar, soulful emoting (reaching levels some might call “too much”), and powerful personality (ditto). Additional musicians help attain this goal on a wide range of instruments, from bowed strings to what sounds like a tabla drum to the kind of horn that originates on a ram’s head to be blown by a white-bearded dude in a robe from atop a mountain.

Right off the bat, the sans-vocals “Cairn” hones the sound to levels that are undeniably accessible. “Sneedville Blues” follows it with dexterous underscoring his allegiance to the Takoma tradition fingerpicking (accented by some almost phantom backing vocals); further deepening this connection is the sleeve art by Turner Williams, which I’m pretty sure is a partial homage to the cover of the shared ’74 LP Leo Kottke/Peter Lang/John Fahey.

When Frank’s vocals come in, the whole can’t help but remind me a bit of Led Zep’s raga-folk side. Next, “Susquehanna River Blues” amplifies the man’s aforementioned uniqueness of personality, being a story song detailing the artist hanging with homeless Juggalos at a Burger King. No shit. As the tale unwinds, the American Primitive aura is seamlessly retained.

Although “On a Hill” conjures some glistening psych-folk with swell upper-register vocalizing (and distant tuba at the finale) it’s the acoustic fingerstyle bluesy flavor that’s the core of what Hurricane’s up to here; six of the 13 selections reference the blues in their titles including “Gatlinburg Blues,” which combines ringing guitar tones and dark edged singing with a foundation of bowed-strings to highlight the distance traveled from lo-fi beginnings.

“Holy Mountaintop Rainstorm,” which features Hurricane alone save for pre-recorded horn backing, is obviously in the tradition of his early stuff, though the clearness of the recording ties it rather snugly to its surroundings on the LP. And while the title of the album and the artist’s peacefully tolerant demeanor might suggest a blissfully escapist trip, “Johnson City Blues” is another tense narrative; the lyric “heard about that fascist bovine he’s building that pipeline” did grab me, and his wordless vocal-flurry near the end tightened the hold. Overall, it’s a very serious undertaking.

The title track is a beauty move, but it’s also crisply up-tempo, its unfussy drumming setting the pace as echoing upright bass serves as anchor and the gospel-drenched testifying drives the point home. From there, “Beneath the BP Lights” is another story song, the first I’ve heard that mentions the consumption of “DeGiorno-style” pizza. The titular gas station convenience store gets depicted on the sleeve; there’s a lot happening on that cover besides homage, including the Juggalo symbol. Yowsers.

“Mooneye Travelin Blues” leans toward the achy, while “Mad River Blues” is a picking fiesta with a psych undercurrent. Both cuts are in contrast to the borderline lushness of the weird-pop “Lonely Love,” where the repeated lyric “pympin and shrympin and doin no harm” really illuminates Hurricane’s sensibility.

“Chattahoochee Flow” kinda reminds me of a mixture of the Mike Fellows’ project Mighty Flashlight, the New Weirdness of Vetiver, and maybe even the expansionist qualities of Jeff Buckley. It closes the album on a high note (and you can take that both ways). But in the end, comparisons are deceptive. Those who think all contemporary stuff is simply remade-remodeled precedent really need to check out Life Is Spiritual. In the end, there’s no other album like it that’s not made by Frank Hurricane.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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