Independent release, 2013
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/24/2013
When my son brought this album home from Casey Frazier’s CD release show in Monterey a little while back, he struggled to describe the style of music Frazier plays. After giving Regal several listens over the intervening weeks, I can appreciate why. The easy fall-back would be Americana, but there’s so much more here—a heavy white-soul influence fueled by the driving commitment of classic rockers like Van Morrison and Tom Petty, melded with the narrative instincts of a bluesman.
One thing the sound singer-songwriter Frazier features on Regal is for sure, is big. On most of these tunes he deploys a full lineup of guitar, bass, drums and keys, plus a full horn section and backup singers, with a several tracks adding strings as well. Which suggests yet another reference point (for this listener, at least)—the Mavericks—if only in the sense that there’s a confluence of styles and sounds happening here that's genuinely different and creates something fresh and new, with Frazier’s rough-edged-yet-empathetic Everyman voice at the center.
Most importantly, though, these songs have meat on their bones; I found moment after moment that stuck with me long afterwards.
“Cradle To The Grave” opens things up with a steely intensity, at first just Frazier and his acoustic, though the song builds quickly, adding a rhythm section, piano and strings before blossoming fully at the chorus, horns and Hammond organ and electric guitar providing the final rocket boost of drama and power behind a lyric about a desperate man in a passionate affair. Fellow Monterey habitue Dani Paige provides very complementary female harmony vocals during the opening and closing sections.
“One Day In Kansas City” turns up the gospel/r&b influences as big horns, piano, electric guitar and Hammond back a story-song with genuine swing to it. That swing is amplified in the downright exuberant “Cold Hard Truth,” featuring the strongest Van Morrison presence yet in its speed-talking wise-troubadour vibe.
From there, Nashville influences begin to assert themselves in Frazier’s tunes, starting with the dusty country-folk of “The Family Tree” and growing with “Rocky Mountain Rambler,” a downright country road song. There’s an agreeable and appealing earnestness and artistry to these tracks, which turn down the horns and electric guitar to draw greater attention to Frazier’s evocative words and stories.
“Evil Man” stays out West with a tale of an unjustly-accused outlaw that features banjo right up to the point where the horns come blasting in as he builds to the punchline: “I never was, and never will be / An evil man.” “If We Grow Old” turns the volume back down for a contemplative, mostly acoustic blues about starting over clean: “I never wanted to die / So I found a place to start living / A different kind of born again.”
The final four alternate between power and restraint. The muscular “Find A City” offers an interesting mélange of soul, gospel, country and folk, a slightly twangy tale of outlaws from Kansas City set to big dramatic strings, with a steady-thrumming earworm of a chorus. “Nothing’s quite as terrifying as your own voice in your head” sings Frazier in a moment of revelation. “I Forgot A Name” is a mandolin-tinged dirge that manages to be languid and exotic in rather Jeff Buckley fashion.
The bluesy, penultimate “Lights At The Bar” returns us to the here and now with this time-honored bit of wisdom: “Things look different under the lights at the bar.” (Which is also a much more artful phrase than “beer goggles.”) Here Frazier tries his best to channel Ray Charles and does a pretty impressive job of it, especially when the horns and piano lift the song up at the choruses. “Walkin’ A Line” closing things out with a wistful country-folk tune that sounds like it might be about moving to Monterey.
Regal is a terrific album that showcases Frazier’s facility with and genuine affection for all forms of American music, with the horns and strings amplifying the punch and pathos of these thoughtful tunes. His songs are populated by memorably damaged characters stumbling through scenes both familiar and fanciful, searching for some kind of revelation or redemption, and only sometimes finding it. And isn’t that a lot like life?