My favourite type of album is the one that throws you off-kilter. It starts off in a fashion typical of its described genre, boring and safe, only to do a one-eighty and give you aspects of something completely different. That best explains Death Letter, the 2016 release from Hamilton-based duo, Frankie & Jimmy.
I need to point out that in the album details, none of these boys are listed as “vocalists.” Jim Fitzgerald takes on the “lead hollering” position along with the harmonica and whistling, while Frankie Flowers acts as back up hollering as well as the slide guitar, the porchboard, the bass, and the tambourine. “Hollering” is the most honest way to self-describe their vocals, and on the opening track, “Death Letter,” you are immediately treated to it. The lyrics are bellowed over top of raw slide guitar and, though you cannot understand a word, the tone, the melody, and sudden appearance of it throws you through the biggest loop. It takes about thirty-seconds to grasp, but it works.
More than a few would likely find the unintelligible ‘hollers’ to be annoying, and I understand why. Trying to make sense of the words makes the listen difficult, but if you just let it blend with the music it suddenly changes entirely. Imagine you are at a bar with a live band playing, and the sound guy clearly doesn’t know how to work the board, but the music is cool and, though you cannot understand a damn word out of the guy’s mouth, the music is the soundtrack of the place. If you close your eyes while listening to Death Letter, you are at that bar, with the sounds of clinking glasses and random chatter over time, and that droning vocal just begins to blend as its own instrument rather than words over top of instrumentation. That is Frankie & Jimmy.
Flowers’s skill is evident in every track. From the opening fast slide work in “Death Letter” to the slower, powerful, and simple rhythm work in the EP’s closer, “Saint James Infirmary,” Death Letter has a strong base with which to build off. And Fitzgerald does just that. His hollering and harmonica work interchange and keep a strong melodic element present amidst the toe-tapping goodness below.
The three-song EP is one of the coolest mixes of blues, folk-punk, and ‘bad bar music’ I have ever heard. The instrumentation screams blues classics, the recording style gives the record a dirty, raw live feel, and the vocals add an unintelligible punk grit that blends the album into a raunchy good time. It is definitely not an album for everyone, or something you can listen to super regularly, but it is an album that livens up a classic style. There is flow and struggle throughout, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is a fan of the blues. The drunken, unable-to-form-logical-sentences-because-you-are-so-down, blues.
Written by Danielle Kenedy
*edited by Kate Erickson