Paula Frazer has made a name for herself when it comes to dark tales and the South. Growing up in Sautee Nacoochee (say that three times fast!), Georgia, Frazer grew up on everything from Roy Orbison to George Gershwin. Working with the band Tarnation, Frazer honed her chops. It’s that musicianship which has made her career so appreciated but only by so few. Now, looking back at the past decade, the singer has compiled this series of recordings that are basically her, her instruments, and a small room to maintain the barren feeling. There are 15 songs here (including three videos as a bonus), and none of them paint a happy-go-lucky portrait.
The subtle hiss of the recordings only give more credibility to the songs as “The Only One” begins the record. Sounding a tad like a later day Rosanne Cash, Frazer has a near ethereal sound in her voice that rarely stretches itself. “I’ll pretend I’ll hold him near,” she sings with a phrasing and melody Roy Orbison could certainly relate to, particularly the moody guitar arrangement. The simplicity and economical use of words are often her strength, never mincing words. “Halfway to Madness” has harmonies that could be mistaken for Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris together. The constant guitar propels this tune along but with no sense of urgency. The closing high harmonies won’t send chills up one’s spine, but the song contains a thought that should pass your mind. “I listen to a voice of reason while I sleep / It tells me to question all the promises I keep,” she states before returning to the chorus.
“An Awful Shade of Blue” won’t be mistaken for “Whiter Shade of Pale” anytime soon. Here Frazer explores more of that Johnny Cash-meets-Spaghetti Western guitar, making one feel as if they’re riding off in the sunset. A lengthy guitar solo is mixed with her angelic voice, making it a very appeasing homage to Ennio Morricone’s theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. “Idly” begins with a distant guitar buzz or sound, recalling Wilco’s Summerteeth. Frazer sees a bit of hope in this song, but it’s not nearly enough to for any to deem the track cheery. This is also the first song that doesn’t seem quite complete—the abrupt ending not fully flushed out. “Long Ago” continues on this path, bringing to mind the Handsome Family if they ran into a pot of gold. Other influences, possibly Judy Collins, are also brought to the fore.
While most people won’t find the thread between sixties folk and the current Americana, Frazer seems to grasped that thread and used it often. Not too morose but basically sharing her naked feelings, she is able to show more of herself than any studio recording ever could. If there’s one miscue on the album, it might be “The Hand”. Whether it is the tinny sound of the recording or the fact the busy nature of the song doesn’t lend well to a 4-track, a lot of the feeling is lost. Some guitar solos are quite nice (especially the bridge), yet it just doesn’t do enough justice to the song. The instrumental coda is beautiful though, a Middle Eastern spaghetti western tone.
The title track tends to go over prior sonic territory, but gets the desired effect. Frazer then moves headlong into “Taken”. The song is a slightly up-tempo track in the vein of a depressed Belle and Sebastian. “Once when we were children we were laughing time was passing, now it’s gone,” she sings about days past. A keyboard or some sort of programming is used here, with the sixties psychedelic organ holding up the song’s rear. “We Met by the Love-Lies-Bleeding” only solidifies the fact that Frazer can sing, play guitar and hold a simple melody for all its worth. The last of the non-video bonus tracks is “Deep Was the Night”, another relatively up-tempo song with ethereal exercises afar. The trio of bonus tracks doesn’t dissuade the listener. Paula Frazer might never have a big hit, but listeners should be pleased with a fine and sparse account of her past decade’s finest.