Frank Smith are a band, not a man. At least, that’s what it says on their MySpace page. I did find 40 Frank Smiths in the phone book before I stopped counting. But that’s not the point. That Frank Smith are a band is, however, news of sorts. For a while, terms like “collective” and “side project” were the favored designation, thanks in large part to the lineage: the band got their start when Texas-born Lot Six drummer Aaron Sinclair took a few friends on a bit of a country excursion in Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer’s son Jesse’s home studio. Various members have come and gone (including Kramer), but Sinclair, along with fellow Lot Sixer Dan Burke (bass) and Eyes like Knives frontman Scott Toomey, never managed to shake Frank Smith. The seven players who took the stage at Great Scott last Saturday night to celebrate the release of the third Frank Smith disc, Red on White (Big Snow), had coalesced into something more than just a collection of local-scene pals on a country-music bender. The addition over time of Brett Saiia on banjo and Steve Malone on pedal steel complements lots of harmonica blowing and acoustic strumming and drummer Drew Roach’s chugging train rhythms, and it’s given Sinclair a seasoned line-up to help him realize his broad, rootsy vision. Red on White is peppered with lo-fi, found-sound montages that at times give it a back-porch-hootenanny feel. But like the set Saturday, the disc is also carefully arranged, shot through with richly textured ruminations, up-tempo barnstormers, and a reverb-and-feedback-filled ambiance that gives the proceedings a palpable sense of darkness. A new song that recalled the latter Las Vegas Storydays of the Gun Club — the disaster strewn, banjo-filled “Apocalypse Circa Now” — and a slow, mournful cover of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” (both on the new disc) demonstrated how far Sinclair’s big little band have come in the past couple years. Steve Martin once joked that it’s just not possible to play a sad song with a banjo. Apparently he was wrong.
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