Jackson C. Frank‘s life found him to be a man of constant sorrow. Victim of a horrific explosion, he received a small fortune in compensation, flew to England, and promptly began the process of self-destruction. In the interim, he picked up a few soon-to-be-famous friends along the way, recorded some songs, and released exactly one album. Then the money dried up, his relationships started to falter, he started acting more and more eccentric thanks in part to drugs and drink, which would find him living out on the street. The songs stopped coming to him.
Then, bad stuff started to happen.
This hard-luck life would come later. The deceptive good-times of his life resulted in the birth of one classic folk song, and a legend that overshadows his sole release, Blues Run The Game. If I may be so bold, I’m not going to praise the album for being a brilliant statement, or for being a record of true genius or a poetic masterpiece, because I believe that the legend and the legacy and the tragedy have created the prism through which Blues Run The Game is judged.
Instead, what one has here is an album of promise, of pretty good songs, and a voice that promised to produce much fruit once it blossomed. The story of the album’s creation–a nervous Frank singing with partitions hiding him from producer Paul Simon in a three-hour session–doesn’t add or detract from the finished result; the stark arrangements don’t feel rushed, while Frank is in fine voice. One hears similarities to Fred Neil and Tim Buckley in songs such as “Here Come The Blues” and “You Never Wanted Me,” while “Kimbie” is simply a gorgeously sad song. Then there’s the title-track, the album’s brightest spark, and the song that has rightly given Frank eternal life. It’s on “Here Come The Blues,” the eerie reference to words drying up, and “Dialogue,” that one gets an eerie foreshadowing of the troubles soon to befall the already tragedy-laden young man’s life.
John Ford’s dictum about truths and legends applies to Frank, and perhaps that legend makes this record seem much greater than it is. Instead of considering it a masterful statement, one should, perhaps, consider Blues Run The Game as a tragic example of promise not realized.