A third excellent, fascinating and contemporary side project by The Bills’ Chris Frye.
The Bills are a high-class eclectic Canadian roots music band that incorporates folk, country, some blues and pop in its repertoire. Formed about 25 years ago, Chris Frye has been a mainstay of the group for all this time, contributing songs, lead vocal and guitar to the band’s intriguing sound. Known principally as a touring and festival band, they released only 5 albums during this time, but individual members have branched out from time to time to record something different. Chris Frye gets together with top-notch musicians each time he solos and this time is no exception; they usually go by the name The Analog Ghosts. ‘And then there we were in the Flamin 20s’ is the third time out. In their excellent eclectic output The Bills are not dissimilar to Last Train Home –indeed Chris Frye looks rather like LTH leader Eric Brace.
Frye has chosen to write songs for the new album reflecting life and current times, sometimes with optimism, often with despair. The album kicks off with a cracking roots rocker ‘Please don’t take long’ about finding the strength to confront difficult news, and features the fabulous violin of Richard Moody, a scintillating bass solo from Scott White, and some great harmonies. ‘Plug you in’ is a jaunty rocker about electric cars “ I want you plugged in So you can get turned on, To whispering power That lets you the glide, No thunder but lightnin’ Just another sightin’ Of happiness rolling, Electrified”.
‘Up too late’ again features the wonderful Richard Moody and is a standout track with its dreamy bluesy setting – “I’m up too late again, Mingus Ah Um my only friend,” ‘Watching the Waves’ is a funky number about uncertain pandemic times, and is followed by a smooth soul track with a nice 80s vibe ‘Soul on the Breeze’, about coping with adversity by rising above it, sounding a bit like a cross between Ron Sexsmith and Simply Red. The more pop-influenced retro soul ‘Don’t you wanna feel’ follows, and is probably the most upbeat and optimistic song on the album.
The mood changes with the slow sad ‘In your starless night’, another standout with forlorn violin and great harmonies from Susie Ungerleider. It has several seconds of silence at the end as if to reflect on the passing of a loved one. ‘Sometimes I just sit’ is a song Frye wrote in his teens, reinvigorated for the recording session and its bouncy beat is just right for its positive mood. ‘What else is there to do’ is a kind of celebration, infused with resignation, of oppressed people around the world who have no choice but to carry on the face of the most challenging situations – “The border a three day walk, With strife chasin’ from behind, The shoeless cry while bullets fly, And a future blurs the mind,1 What else is there to do but try” And to round off a really excellent album with its varied tone and tempo ‘Have you been good’, a lilting self-reflective track, with a question that only the protagonist can answer.
Beautifully produced by Frye with some great musicians in support, Frye has delivered a fine album for our times, and it is highly recommended.