Rough Enough is Frank Richard’s first album. That’s a pretty unusual statement when you discover that Richard’s learnt guitar in his teenage years – taught by Tim Hardin for his first lesson – just outside Woodstock, where he’d travelled because Dylan and a bunch of other musicians were there. The next paragraph is taken directly from Richard’s biography:
“He lived in a tent by a stream in Woodstock for a couple of years (hitching to Mexico in the winter), then hit the road, going to Denver, then to Boulder, where he met a caravan of hippies in old flatbed trucks fitted out as houses who’d left San Francisco to travel around the country, and who called themselves the Diggers. He joined their band, ending up with some of them on a communal farm near the Delaware Water Gap in eastern Pennsylvania. He moved back to New York City—Greenwich Village—for a while, then to San Francisco, going back and forth from the Bay Area to New York for the next few years”.
Before we get from there to this album, there’s another forty-fifty years of playing music and of life experience – opening for Richie Havens, playing a song about Muhammed Ali to the boxer and his entourage, environmental work, and finally settling in Southern Vermont. Unsurprisingly, Richard’s voice has plenty of character – an older man’s gravel tone letting you know, simply from hearing the timbre, there’s plenty behind it.
The album has thirteen tracks – three traditional (‘All These Blues’, ‘When First Unto This Country’ and ‘Red River’); four by Richards and the remainder borrowed from other writers.
Of the latter, the most intriguing is ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ – Dylan’s lyrics updated from a 1970’s cowboy song to the world of 2020 “We gotta put the guns back to the ground/We can’t shoot them any more/Deranged white men keep mowing people down” and “We gotta leave the carbon in the ground/We can’t burn it like before…”
Elsewhere, Jimmy Bruno’s ‘I’m Talking To You’ is splendid; John Prine’s ‘Some Humans Ain’t Human’ is perhaps the most accessible track; and Frank Cable’s ‘Mills Of Lawrence’ is heart-wrenchingly good.
Of the self-penned tracks, ‘Praise To The Sun’ should become a song-poem for the environmental movement: “In the final hours, the arrogance of humans/Was beyond belief/Drunk on their own power, astride the golden calf/While the earth knew no relief/Just relentless in that search for gold/They built great cities, proud but cold/Ignoring the ancient truths of holiness/Ah but I heard a voice in the wilderness saying? Praise to the sun and the earth it shines upon/And pure waters as they run…”.
On most tracks, the arrangement is unassuming, unfussy even, played slowly, supportive of the years in Richard’s vocal – and this makes for quietly powerful music, the voice of the wise rather than someone who is ‘always seventeen’ (Chapin).
Similarly, ‘East West’ and ‘River Girl Blue’ are love songs but love songs a lifetime of experience away from mooning and June-ing. ‘East West’ is “about missing my first love on the other coast, and about my love for California” and ends with a gem of an image – of both – from the edge of the Pacific “The waves break hard, on the rocks/On the rocks, on the rocks”.
‘River Girl Blue’ is only thirty lines long but captures two people, many reflections, self-knowledge and much more as it moves from its opening of:
“thinking to when
I walked right here with her, hand in hand”
to its closing:
“I wonder how she’s doing, if she’s found herself a friend
And here I am, alone again”.
Listen to the track for yourself in the link below – and simultaneously get a feel for the apparent simplicity of the music, the (spot on) understated production and the years of life in Frank Richards’ voice. You can hear why a second album is currently being recorded.
Artist’s website: https://www.frankrichardmusic.com
‘River Girl Blue’: