A review written for Real Blues Magazine
By Bruce Miller
March 28, 2006
BAD OUT THERE
Frank Carillo and the Bandoleros
Jezebel Records

When this disc arrived at my door, along with a dozen or so others for me to review, I wasn't suprised that I'd never heard of this guy.  Many of the discs I see are by new artists.  The first thing which stood out, made it different from all the rest, was the incredibly tasteful design of the cd package.  I immediately assumed that this might be the work of some prodigy who was being financed to the hilt by some wealthy record company.  I forgot rule # one for reviewing recordings, no expectations!!  First, I must credit the Art Director, George Bixby lll.  Next, I must say, I couldn't have been farther off the mark if I'd tried!  Frank Carillo has been recording, writing and performing for several decades, but, from my point of view, has remained under the radar.  My curiosity was piqued in what was to become a serendipitous moment.

Naturally I threw the cd on right then and there, and thus began an inspirational experience the likes of which I haven't encountered for some time.  But first allow me to discuss the career of Frank Carillo up to now, for those of you readers who may be, like me, unfamiliar with his work.

In 1972, Frank's unique, distinctive guitar playing was requested by Peter Frampton, who was recording his first solo album, "Wind of Change", following the breakup of "Humble Pie".  Carillo also contributed to Frampton's second album, "Frampton's Camel", in 1973, after which he formed a band called "Doc Holiday".  Their first album was produced by Chris Kimsey. Kimsey had just finished producing the Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers" at Olympic Studios and was able to obtain permission for "Doc Holiday" to use the Stones' equipment to record their album.  Not only that, but in the adjoining studio, Led Zeppelin was mixing "House of the Holy".  The bands quickly became good friends and were soon jamming with each other.  Serendipity strikes again!

In late '73, Frank was recording the French superstar, Johnny Hallyday's, album, "Insolitudes", contributing his sought after guitar playing with the likes of bass player Klaus Voorman, guitarists Bob Mayo and Peter Frampton and the unrivalled (at the time) horn section consisting of Bobby Keys, Jim Horn and Jim Price.  Carillo wrote the title track, La Solitude, which became an enormous hit in Europe.  Eventually, in 1978, after returning from a Canadian tour opening for the Bee Gee's, Frank signed an exclusive recording agreement with Atlantic Records.  Led Zeppelin's Swan Song Records also wanted to sign him, and he signed a co-publishing contract with Led Zeppelin's publishing arm, Kyknos Cantos Music, (which is Greek for Swan Song).  Carillo's first album for Atlantic, entitled "Rings Around the Moon", was recorded in the summer of '78.  He was asked to open for Led Zeppelin on their forthcoming North American tour, which would have been the first time Zeppelin had used an opening act.  However, it was not to be, as the tour was cancelled due to Robert Plant's son tragically dying.

Carillo toured extensively throughout the remainder of '78 and '79 with acts such as The J. Giles Band, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Van Halen.  During a break in '78, he was fortunate to collaborate with Carly Simon on writing a song called "Pure Sin" for her "Spy" album.  He played guitar on the cut, as well, which was produced by world renowned producer Arif Mardin.  In 1979, Carillo recorded his second album, called "Street of Dreams", following the release of which he joined Bad Company, opening for them on their 64 date U.S.A. tour, playing to soldout audiences and stunning both critics and audiences.

The next we hear of Frank Carillo is in 1986 when he began writing and producing sessions for, of all people, Twiggy, while she was doing a Broadway play.  These sessions brought Carly Simon and Frank together once again, singing backup on the Twiggy recordings.  In '88, Ricky Byrd, guitarist and songwriter for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, approached Frank which resulted in Carillo's song "Play That Song Again" which ended up on her album.  Ricky Byrd co-wrote the last song on Carillo's new cd, the one I am reviewing.  Anyway, Frank joined forces with Annie Golden and recorded two albums with great European success.  He also worked with guitarist George Kooymans of Golden Earring who introduced him to Dutch vocalist, Anouk. Frank wrote two songs which appeared on her platinum debut album.  He also wrote a song (with Golden) for the film "Prelude to a Kiss" in which he also appears, playing, what else, a musician!

Over the last several years, Frank has been touring America and Europe as a member of John Hammond, Jr.'s band.  He appears on guitar on one of Hammond's recent cd's, "Slick Crown Vic".  Most recently, he has put together his new band, Frank Carillo and the Bandoleros.  They have released this cd, an indie which must have been a tremendous relief for a guy who has previously recorded with a big record company breathing down his neck.  The resulting work is, simply put, one of the best recordings I've ever heard, anywhere, ever.

Now, the tendency when reviewing the work of an artist who people might not be familiar with is to compare his or her style with better known folks.  The obvious comparisons which I have read in other reviews would be Bruce Springsteen (I read somewhere that the explosive roots-rocker, "Red Queen", could be a continuation of "Thunder Road" with the characters now in middle age, or something to that effect.)  This particular song with its infectious, almost anthemic chorus is destined for plenty of radio play, although there are several other tunes which have similar gripping qualities.  The format of the song, which begins with Carillo singing with a simple guitar accompaniment, then the band tears up the chorus sparked with one of the most powerful drum licks I've heard (by Eddie Seville).  The aspects of this song which make it unique are the ringing guitars and, in particular, the lyrics.  Frank's phrasing is his own, not only on this song but throughout the cd.  What makes comparisons difficult is the fact that, over the years Carillo has developed such a distinctive style of writing, playing and producing that, although influences may be discernable, direct comparisons are redundant.  Frank has one of those raw, "whiskey" voices, so comparisons to Springsteen, Tom Waits, and John Hiatt are inevitable, but the reality is not that simple.  To my ear, his work evokes Warren Zevon's best, Tom Petty, even the Archangels' first cd, but it's more the depth of the writing which brings to mind these others.  Frank Carillo is first and foremost a truly great songwriter, an unusually talented storyteller.  This recording is, it seems, almost totally autobiographical, and it is from this well that Carillo draws these wonderful songs.

The first song is the title tune, Bad Out There, a bluesy shuffle with a relentless, gritty vocal about the state of the world (inner and outer), using very personal metaphors which, thankfully, the listener can read as he listens.  This is one of those discs where the lyric booklet is a necessity. After the second cut, Red Queen, is a medium paced tune named Chapel Street, a meeting with an old friend (he mentions some of his really early bands in the lyrics) is the metaphor, with lines such as, upon inviting the friend to a place on Chapel Street, "We can talk about but not repeat, the things from yesterday" and the refrain "When I see you all it makes me smile and heaven was a place in time, I may change my mind a million times /But I can never change my heart."  His phrasing is ideal for the lyrics, and the slide lead solo is a real treat.  Last Plane is next, with some soft harp (by Carillo), is an acoustic ballad style in which I believe he alludes to George Harrison (a very close friend of Frank's...one of four friends that he dedicates this album to) when he says "The holy friar left the park he moved to Mandalay, He left a message on the door "All Things Must Pass Away".  Frank was quoted as saying "A lot of people in my life have been map-givers," Carillo said in a hushed voice."George was a map-giver."

Watcha Gonna Do (When the Levee Breaks) is a fine rocker with a powerful bridge and excellent dynamics.  The band really shines on this one.  Frank plays guitars and harp, Baldwin "Fun Machine" and Tanpura, Karl Allweier on electric (and upright) bass, Norman del Tufo handles percussion and, as I mentioned before, Eddie Seville is on drums.  Chris Cubeta, credited with additional production and recording engineer, plays some additional guitar on 5 tracks, piano on 3 cuts, backing vocals on 3 and bass and drums on Blame All My Troubles On The Moon.  Tony Novarro plays additional acoustic on one cut, John O'Reilly plays drums on a little piece of magic named Wrong #, with Paul Orofino adding banjo on the same tune, not to mention co-producing with Frank Carillo and co-engineering plus mixing and mastering.

Another rocker, an angry one, is Tail that Wagged the Dog, a mood he revisits in All In Chains.  Frank shows a blacker side of his sense of humour in With Her Pajamas On, a moving story about an abused lover who snaps.  The ballads are incredibly strong on this disc.  The Bluebird Is Gone is written about a friend who passed away, possibly Jimmy Dewar.  I had tears in my eyes and the hairs on my neck stood up the first time I listened to it.....and every time since.  If You Don't, co-written with Ricky Byrd, ends the record with the lines "Who will tie up all the loose ends and tear down all the walls I put up to keep myself from finding love at all."  It's lines like this which resonate with the listener, and this disc is sprinkled with all sorts of classic phrases.  One of my favourites is at the end of Wrong # where Frank muses in a philosophic way "My brother Andrew says in my head I'm always on a quest/ Well, the quest part is the best part/ So I hope I never find the answer!"

Frank Carillo mentions that the making of this cd that "The sound just developed.  It was like falling of a mountain.  It just happened."  A mountain built by decades of honing his craft, of gaining wisdom, he has produced a work which doesn't easily lend itself to labelling, but it seems to have a little of everything ie., blues, blues-rock, roots music that is fecund, ripe brilliance crackling with mastery, authority and sincerity.  He establishes that ineffable connection with the listener; raw, honest, personal poetry performed by musicians of the highest calibre; this cd exudes soul from beginning to end. I think it's your time, Frank. Bartender, 5 bottles of your very finest, por favor.
Bruce Miller


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