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January/February 2009

Frank Senior
Listening in the Dark with Frank Senior
Smalls

If 10 of the 11 tracks that fill Frank Senior’s debut album seem familiar, perhaps it’s because they were first released last year under the title Let Me Be Frank. Now, with one added track, a rollicking “Route 66,” the aptly named Senior (who stalled his performing career for several decades, putting his family’s needs first by operating a newsstand) is back on store shelves and ready to impress fans of soulful jazz singing.

Given Senior’s sandpapery growl and innate bluesiness, coupled with the fact that he opts to open with “You Don’t Know Me,” it’s tempting to categorize him as a Ray Charles wannabe. Indeed, Senior—who, like Charles, has been blind since childhood (actually, in Senior’s case, since birth)—owes a considerable debt to Brother Ray. But he is equally beholden to Billy Eckstine, Lou Rawls and George Benson. In other words, Senior has learned from the best, and comes away with a sound all his own that is at once tender and tough, vulnerable and impermeable.

With pianist Richard Clements and guitarist Saul Rubin, Senior has crafted consistently imaginative arrangements, including a peppy “This Can’t Be Love,” a breezy “On the Street Where You Live,” a gorgeously satisfied “The Very Thought of You” and a delightfully effervescent “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” But the standout track is Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen’s obscure “Someone to Tell It To,” a gentle admonition of a loveless life’s emptiness, made all the more profound by Senior’s superbly sensitive reading.

Originally published in January/February 2009
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