A Review of the CD
"Safe in the Harbour"
by Frank Emerson

"Safe in the Harbour"
by Frank Emerson

Devil Dog Records: DDCD 001
Copyright: 1999 Devil Dog Records


This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 6/02

The majority of the material on this 1999 CD was previously released as a cassette in 1988-9. It was re-mixed for the CD, with the result that the sound is as clean as a whistle.

Now, this can serve two purposes: just like the restoration of a smoke-damaged painting, the clean-up can bring out the beauty, but it can also highlight the flaws in the technique.

And straight from the start, we are faced with something we cannot duck: I refer to the nature of Frank Emerson’s voice.

Now, along with my review copy, I received a handsome brochure relating to Frank and his recordings. And again and again, one read of his “fine voice”. And this got me puzzled.

For sure, it is a voice with a rich timbre; and it’s a voice with a decent range. But, more than anything else, it is a voice that made me recall the witticism “he could sing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”.

No, no, don’t get me wrong. He is no Florence Foster Jenkins. His voice is there-or-thereabouts every time. He just is not blessed with perfect pitch.

But now here is the paradox. I really LIKED the voice. So he’s a shade flat now and then? Big deal! Listen, there is more CHARACTER in Frank Emerson’s voice than there is in a host of pitch-perfect “cardboard cut-out” singers, all with the collective personality of a polystyrene carton.

Now to the songs. This album has a heavy Stan Rogers influence. That is to be expected, since most of the tracks were laid down within 6 years of Stan’s tragic death. And in the late 80s, “Rogersitis” reigned supreme.

In fairness, the Rogers songs hold up well nearly 15 years later. But I feel that Frank missed a great chance to re-visit those songs and really put HIS OWN stamp on them. What it sounds like is a very faithful (and, in its way, totally honourable) imitation of SR himself. The same brio; the same emphasis.

But Frank Emerson is not putting himself forward as a mimic: he is, in choosing other people’s songs, telling us he can INTERPRET them, and put his own DNA on them.

And he can. He does NOT imitate Eric Bogle in his version of Bogle’s title song (itself a song that continues the Stan Rogers theme, in that it was written in remembrance of him).

The musicianship throughout the album is of a high quality. And the back-up vocals really stand out. Perhaps, to be HYPER-critical, we could do without the drums on “Mary Ellen Carter”: there’s no need for the beat being so obviously laid down when the song has a natural rhythm all of its own! But that is my only “complaint” in that department.

Now, along with this CD, I received a second one (produced 2 years later in 2001) in the same post. I look forward to reviewing it, as soon as I have e-mailed this review from my home here in England, to Kevin in the USA.

It is a fine – if technically imperfect – voice. And I hope that in the second CD, he takes the contents of the album by the scruff of the neck and really puts his own imprint on things: because I am sure he can.

Dai Woosnam

Track List:

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