Frank McComb - Living Room (2012)

Frank McComb
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His may be one of the warmest, most recognizable tones in independent soul music. As talented as he is frustrating, the enigmatic Frank McComb returns to the scene for the second time in less than a year with another new release. Cut over five concert dates, McComb delivers a live EP set that is more jazz and jam session than it is classic R&B and soul. With a voice long compared to Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder, McComb’s voice here is now rougher and less pinpoint precise, creating distance from the decades of wearying comparisons to legends and finally giving McComb a vocal identity more completely his own. It’s good to hear Frank be more Frank, even if his efforts to bother singing lyrics feel more rushed and perfunctory than lived, much less transcendent. He’s sung these songs too long and clearly would rather not.

From what one can tell, he’d prefer to play. As with his two previous “live” albums, McComb’s work on the keys and Fender Rhodes are technically flawless and fans who’ve attended McComb’s more self-indulgent shows of late will recognize his penchant for making every…single…song…an extended jam, with the least of these songs clocking in at 7:59 to cuts upwards of 15 minutes. Accordingly, what is at first intimate and awe-inspiring over time becomes exhausting and tolerable in the way an earnest, but average student may endure the sonnets of Shakespeare read aloud in class.

The music is familiar as the majority of this set belongs to the Cleveland native’s Columbia Records debut, Love Stories, recorded a quiet eternity ago before McComb realized he was being burnt by bad label deals, poor record promotion, and crafty show biz folk, leading him to found his own label and subsequent indie releases varying in quality packaging but always worth acquisition and critical attention. Living Room is no different. One privately wishes if McComb had decided to look back for his third live project, he’d have reached back to his Buckshot Lefonque days and introduced latecomers to “Phoenix,” “Better Than I Am,” and the song that introduced McComb to the world, the flawless “Another Day”—songs for which only studio versions exist. Instead, “Cupid’s Arrow” and “Do You Remember Love,” cuts from his The Truth UK release, and a melodically different take of Wonder’s “Superstition” round out this Love Stories set that inexplicably fails to include the single and most memorable of that project, “Gotta Find A Way.”

Nonetheless, collectively the project more than qualifies as real music, honest music, grown folk’s music, technically proficient music, and whatever other cliché phrase qualifies as mature sounds for the over 30 set. But, it’s not always an entertaining or joyous ride, feeling more like a set for elders whose musical appreciation began with bebop and ended with Davis’s Bitches Brew or a “serious” Black film you’re supposed to see even if drying paint conjures greater joy. While the band jamming with McComb is never less than electric through each endless solo and break, its leader feels far, far less than inspired and we’re the lesser for it. Mildly recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson