Frank Hurricane has a right hand to rival the best American Primitive pickers, and he has a voice that hovers above an open tuning with the casual reverence of Mississippi John Hurt. But the tradition he carries on as Hurricanes of Love is less technique than its application towards a uniquely American mysticism. The constant thumb thump driving Nigh Tyme Vybes on Scissor Tail Editions (hurry, there’s just a few tapes left) lulls you into a meditative state, your ear enveloped in the cyclical patterns of flicking fingers. The close mic captures the honesty and immediacy of solo performance, catching fingertips on the lip of the sound hole, tinny ghost notes, and the shifting creak of the guitar’s body, working with the warm tape hiss to create interesting textures. This is spiritual music, sung with purpose and long vowel melismas, but delivered with the winking whimsy of early Devendra Banhart.
Two days ago, this record drove me south from Chicago through the flat country of Indiana and the rolling hills of Kentucky. Its impressionistic elements settled my eyes and ears with the beauty of its subtle shifts: the guitar moves ever forward from within, the thin melody lines seeping out from the octave drone of the thumb like the illusion of puddles in dips of sun-baked highway; loosely double-tracked vocals, ephemeral as the angel’s share of bourbon, blur the phrasing boundaries like speed smears the stalks of corn into streaks; the hum of the lo-fi is the hum of the engine is the hum in your head. The brightest gem is closer “Wind Over Jamaican Plains”, an extended (and perhaps improvised) journey within and without. Through ten minutes Frank exposes the elasticity of time by patiently developing and recalling ideas and forms, just as highway 65 winds back and forth across time zones.
What distinguishes Hurricanes of Love from the traditional American Guitar Mysticism is the focus on transcendence through joy and community. This ain’t no “Hellhound on my Trail” blues, fixated on sin, pain, and death; Frank senses, sees, and feels “the light in your body”. He makes an effort to open the songs away from the isolation and self-consciousness of solo performance, wondering about friends in “Front Porch Broski Blues”, conversing with angels in “Moses Lake Blues”, and breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to someone in the recording room on “Wind”. Another voice does the double tracking, sharing the melody with all of us. If this is solo music, it’s all-one music.
Night Tyme Vybes frees meditative blues from its morbid Existentialism to take it further into the collective experience. It feels like Frank is sitting in a dusty corner of the Mind, channeling and whispering and welcoming us.