- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2001

Frank Black and Reid Paley have much in common — they nurtured their musical roots in Boston, they started as front men for alternative rock-punk bands, and they have expanded their musical horizons as solo artists.

They also are the kind of guys you might be worried about crossing in a dark alley.

Mr. Paley opens for Mr. Black (real name Charles Thompson) Thursday (Feb. 1) at the Iota Club & Cafe in Arlington. It will not be the first time these guys have played their own tough brand of rock 'n' roll together.

In the late 1980s, Mr. Black's legendary group the Pixies opened for Mr. Paley's punk band the Five, and the two hit it off almost immediately.

Back then, Mr. Black was known as Black Francis, and the Pixies were about to gain national attention with their debut album, "Surfer Rosa." The Five didn't last past the late '80s, and the Pixies broke up in 1993, when Black Francis inverted his stage name to Frank Black and started on a solo career.

Mr. Black helped Mr. Paley launch his own solo career a few years later by encouraging him to perform alone and helping him produce his first album, "Lucky's Tune," in 1999.

"I had no choice," Mr. Paley says of his entry into the music business. "My father was a jazz player… . I had the basics of all sorts of woodwinds and piano and drums and everything else forced on me."

His father, Norm Paley, sparked his interest in artists such as Mose Allison, Hank Williams, Ray Charles and Otis Redding. The first album he owned was Johnny Cash's "Live at San Quentin."

Mr. Black recalls vividly his own first encounter with music. When he was 5 and growing up in California, a next-door neighbor played the drums constantly, creating a racket that mystified him. Gaining courage one day, he peeked into the neighbor's window to see a sparkly blue drum set.

"I was very thrilled with that," he says from a hotel room in Vermont. "I was aware of music, but I think that was significant for some reason. It was noisy and mysterious. I knew that I wanted to be around whatever that was."

The drums became his first instrument, but he soon abandoned them for guitar around age 12. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and other 1960s icons all had an impact on him — roots that he returns to in his sixth solo album and third with the Catholics, "Dog in the Sand," which comes out Tuesday.

"It differs from the last two that we've done in that it's more sophisticated," Mr. Black says. "It's got a lot of Americana in it."

The wider vocal range and greater depth to the lyrics also show the maturity Mr. Black has gained since his days of shouting out wild choruses with the Pixies. The influence of his former band on the 1990s alternative music scene isn't something he dwells on, however.

"That's the way that it is; that's the way it works," Mr. Black says of his impact on bands from Nirvana to Radiohead.

The new album's biggest technical innovation is its use of "live to two-track," an older recording method that catches all vocals and instruments on either the left or right channel, with no editing cuts or overdubs. The older style is a perfect match for the nostalgic feel the new songs have — a mix of classic rock 'n' roll and some punk and country.

The storytelling style takes its cues from country. "Some call it the ribbon/Some say the white line/I say truckstop living/Well, it suits me fine," Mr. Black gently sings in "If It Takes All Night."

The few solo shows he is doing come out of the lull he is facing before his group starts its European tour to promote the new album. Mr. Black says he plans to hit the D.C. area again when his band returns to the United States.

Mr. Paley, though normally accompanied by Robert Lee Oliver on bass and James Murray on drums, says he has no qualms about opening alone for Mr. Black. His only complaint comes when people call his solo work acoustic or folk.

"I have never been nor will I ever be 'acoustic,' " Mr. Paley says with indignation from his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment. "[Folk music] implies all kind of self-indulgent whining."

His second solo album, "Revival," released in March, is anything but whiny, kicking off with his growling shout, "I'm not scared of the sunshine/But I'm so used to the rain." His gravely groan is reminiscent of another solo artist, Tom Waits, but Mr. Paley's music has a heavier edge to it.

Pairing up for four shows only, Mr. Paley and Mr. Black offer audiences a way to see what they do best alone onstage.

Their hard-edged rock seems somewhat out of place in a music scene dominated by cheery teen-age pop and rap-metal acts, but their music is a jarring reminder of what rock 'n' roll once was and could be again.

WHAT: Frank Black with opening act Reid PaleyWHERE: Iota Club & Cafe, 2832 Wilson Blvd., ArlingtonWHEN: 9 p.m. ThursdayTICKETS: $15PHONE: 703/522-8340

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