Before you hear him, you’re not sure you really believe Frank Fairfield. And it’s not his fault.With the momentum of a Dakota stampede, a slew of indie musicians has recently waded into the sweet river of folk salvation by the seat of their patchwork pants, ready to pledge themselves to a life of dirty long johns and homemade butter churning if only for a shot at a the cover of Spin. Why, throw in a washboard, some boxcar harmonies and a canteen of moonshine. Crickets and tarnation! You’ve got authenticity.
I suppose what we’re saying is that by this time, we’re on to those who use folk as a gimmick—those apocryphal circuit riders coasting into the next venue on their luxury bus liners, who—other than buying the occasional femo-beaded spittoon from Etsy—don’t quite practice what they preach.
Nay, but how we fall smitten for and respond to those who have taken the time to learn the genre, and for those who actually play from the heart. Because that’s the foundation of folk. Ain’t nothin but campfire smoke and mirrors if it’s not heartfelt. And sometimes amid all the buzz, heartfelt is hard to discern.
With Frank, it’s easy as pie.
Brylcreemed, stiff as a sepia tintype and loathe to any kind of verbal excess, Frank is here to do one thing—play his songs. He plays them like a grasshopper that’s been possessed, with herky jerky bursts of limb and reverent bow. He flickers like a candle. You can hear a pin drop. Even the ghosts are listening, spellbound.
That’s because the sounds coming out of Frank bear the watermark of legions of forgotten people and places beaten down by history. They’re lonely and longing enough to rattle the bones of your ancestry and the spook the horses. Dry riverbeds, antebellum tragedies, pioneers crossing great prairies, Gold Rush drunkards, bewitched Appalachian well waters, parasoled picnics on the Missouri. Everything dusty and dead that seemingly bears nothing to do with us—until we sit down with them and take time to listen. And then, somehow, it all feels very magnified. It feels alive. And close enough that you ask the ghosts to back off a little so you can tap your foot or lay back and feel the rattle of an imaginary Union Pacific. Or maybe shuck some air corn.
Frank’s voice is old for a 24-year-old, as weathered as if he’s come to the end of a wagon train after a cross-continental wandering. Lord knows, maybe he has. We’re delighted he has devoted his life to taking us along for the ride.