You can tell that this isn't quite a normal singer/songwriter album by Frankie's list of instruments in the liner notes. It reads: "Vocals, guitars, banjo, trumpet, euphonium, piano, harmonium, harmonica, and stuff. It was all my fault, I admit it." You're not just getting another boring dose of strumming and singing here, nor are you getting a full-on disc of mope. Frankie has a sense of humor, a big box of different instruments and, as the title mentions, a lot of friends. It is at its heart a singer/songwriter disc -- there are enough plodding melodramatic acoustic numbers with vague lyrics of heartbreak to make certain of that -- but it often goes beyond that definition. The occasional use of what sounds like computerized bleeping makes ...and Friends
the first example I've heard of millennial technology (call it the Radiohead effect) in the singer/songwriter format. In fact, of the seventeen tracks here, only half favor the strum-and-sing folk formula. The rest are mostly instrumental forays featuring any combination of the instruments listed above, with various guest performance from the friends. They achieve some rather interesting moments, as with the horns on the very dance-floor-friendly "The French Guy I & II" or the utterly weird underwater-sounding voice sample mixed with organ on the exploration into obsessive numerology "1:07".
Frankie explains, "I've been obsessed by a number... everything started to end in 07... So here we have a song called 1:07 that is one minute seven seconds long." That quote comes not from the liner notes, but from the multimedia portion of the CD. It's an "enhanced" disc that offers live clips, lyrics, and other goodies accessible from your computer.
Frankie might be of one of the oldest types of musicians around, but he's clearly not afraid of technology and should be applauded for attempting to use technology to help express himself more fully rather than running from it or cursing it. Including the lyrics is a nice touch as well, because Frankie is a less than stellar elocutionist. Perhaps it's his British accent befuddling my Yankee ears, but I had a very difficult time deciphering the lyrics. Reading them gave me a better sense of the pain and humor Frankie is trying to convey, though there aren't many lines that shine with originality -- except for maybe the unlikely rhyming of "historian" and "crematorium" in "Burning the Bodies".
Look closely through the enhanced materials and you'll also find self-deprecating asides. On the lyrics page, before the second-to-last song, Frankie adds, "If you have also got this far --congratulations. I am a stuck record sometimes." It's true, but he's charming enough to get away with it.