Nineteen, Frank Smith’s eighth overall album, is less boot-scooting music and more-boots-on-the-bar music. For a lot of their new album, the band doesn’t seem like it’s quite in the mood to do much other than drown their memories, so dancing seems a bit much to expect. Originally hailing from Boston – and not Nashville or Austin as one might surmise upon first spin – the foursome released a series of folky country-rock albums before relocating to Austin in 2007 and subsequently dropping 2009’s Big Strike in Silver City. On Nineteen’s ten songs, Frank Smith – not a solitary man, but a quartet featuring Aaron Sinclair, Kevin Bybee, Kyle Robarge, Steve Malone – half shuffle, half drunkenly shamble through their tuneful tales sounding like old students of the dusty bar band circuit. And, for the most part, it works.
Most of the time, the band seems comfortable and relaxed on Nineteen - like they’re slouched in front of their amps, slowly coaxing lonesome notes from their instruments. The album opener and title track wearily slips along for most of four minutes before the band crashes out spectacularly. Frank Smith’s finest moments come on these tired cuts where the band sounds confident and soulfully quiet, rather than bombastically upbeat. Even the warbling solo at the end of “Passin’ Through Time” sounds vaguely sepia tinted, like the band is older than this time. That aged sound fits Frank Smith well and when they pick up the pace (ever so slightly) on cuts like “5 10 15 21 23 32” it almost seems vaguely out of place. Like an Austin via Boston version of Bobby Bare Jr, Frank Smith aren’t exactly reinventing the country rock canon, but they have successfully learned and mastered it.
Where the band truly shows promise for further growth is when their songs take a turn for the psychedelic. The pulsing swirling tangles of ”Swollen Tongue” and the freewheeling end of “Be The Disease” are hopefully signposts for the future. When the band gets up off the floor and expands it’s horizons over the edge of the bar, Frank Smith succeeds. Instead of sounding the burnt out road warriors with albums piling up in their past, Frank Smith appear to be ready to continue driving on. All things considered, that’s a pretty good thing — there are a lot of folks that need to hear Frank Smith.