Handsome Frank
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Handsome Frank

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"Reel Life has a way of reeling you in"

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Reel Life has a way of reeling you in
By Matthew H. Berger/ Correspondent
Friday, April 15, 2005

Every time you drive by, you know there's something going on inside. Who are the people in that joint? Why the name and the film roll on the sign? One night you stumble into the place, folks overflowing out the door. You work your way through the crowd, it's a house party and the band is smoking good. "Collateral" with Tom Cruise plays on the television and before you know it, you're drinking martinis with the band.

The Reel Bar at Cambridge and Brighton avenues in Allston, once the space of a traditional Irish pub, has transformed into a hip spot with mod decor. The fusion/funk band Handsome Frank weaves its groove through the mingling crowd, ladies racing back and forth under the yellow and green lights. The band kicks into the Allman Brothers' "Man Down There."

"This is a unique bar in Allston, it's got its own little feeling. It's a martini bar where you can get cheap Guinness," said Lisa Mosher, vocalist for Handsome Frank. Mosher had just sung a fabulous and soulful rendition of Bobby Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe."

"She's got soul man, just comes out and you don't expect it. My prediction is she's gonna go big," said Johanna, a social work student at Columbia University who raced up from Manhattan to see Mosher.

Robin Crowder, a nurse at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, discovered herself at The Reel Bar after being dragged over by her friend, Shelby. Shelby works with several of the band members at Boston's McKinley Public School, a school for special education students. The funky edged fusion seemed to sit well with the vivacious Special Ed crowd.

Great covers

Handsome Frank, named after Franklin Pierce, was formed more than three years ago by Long Island bassist Jim "Grandfather" Scaringe, Jersey guitarist Pat Rooney and a few other musicians. They were later joined by guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Chris DaNowski, drummer John Campbell and most recently by saxophonist Jay St. Germain. Playing mostly original tunes and a few obscure covers, they liken themselves to The Gray Boy Allstars and Medeski, Martin and Wood.

Jersey guitarist Pat Rooney came to Boston in search of a good vibe.

"Came up here for music, met some guys. My guitar teacher said there was a good music scene up here." Rooney is a fan of Miles Davis. "I like Miles, simplicity and tone," said Rooney.

Similarly, St. Germain moved up from Rhode Island to attend The Berklee College of Music just in time to capture a spot with Handsome Frank. St. Germain, at 21, is the youngest member of the band, and he learned to play the horn at the age of 10.

Lots of jams

"We experiment with the funky side of blues, jazz, and rock, a little bit of reggae," said drummer John Campbell, originally from Gettysburg, Pa. "Growing up, I listened to a lot of standard John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, college funk, James Brown, a lot of jazz greats, Miles," said Campbell. "I like Billy Martin from Medeski, Martin & Wood, and Stewart Copeland - his approach to drumming and work on the high hats."

The crowd writhed with the music as they drank from buckets of domestic brew and specialty beers such as Hefe Weizen.

"Every Boston person lives in Allston at some point. Almost every person in this place is a friend of people in the band. It's a good feeling," said Mosher.

The band's other hangout is the Plough and Stars in Cambridge, where they will perform on Friday. The band hopes to crank out some rhythms this summer on Martha's Vineyard, where one of the band members has a house.

(Editor's Note: For more information on the band, see www.handsomefrank.com.)

- Allston-Brighton TAB


Handsome Frank - self released
Live at the Plough and Stars - self released
Live at the Attic - self released


Feeling a bit camera shy


Don’t listen to this band.

If you only appreciate one style of music then I strongly advise that you continue no further with is biography. Don’t waist your time reading this is if you can’t stand music that makes you want to have fun or if you prefer ragged, uninspired musicianship, with no sense of musical history. This band is terrible when it comes to getting people in the audience to mosh. They certainly don’t inspire intellectual thoughts or kick off philosophical movements, and their musical tastes and inspirations are sooooooo old school.

I once saw this band, Handsome Frank, at a large music venue in their home town of Boston, with an ex girlfriend of mine. Ugh, it sucked so bad. First of all, I had to listen to my ex jabber in my ear all night because the music wasn’t loud enough to drown her out. Not to mention that I didn’t even get to try out my new earplugs. Second, everyone was so focused on the band the whole time - bobbing their heads like a parade of in-step chickens. They all had stupid smiles on their faces too. Some people were making complete fools of themselves dancing around to the ridiculously tight grooves laid down by the rhythm section. I guess this band doesn’t know that practice is overrated, and no one wants to dance anymore. Oh yeah, and the bass player plays a giant violin! What a wuss! (Actually he’s pretty big, and judging by the way he straddles that violin and plucks those strings I don’t think I would want to mess with him). The drummer was so boring! – he didn’t even do one drum solo. He just kept playing along with the guitarist and big violin player - laying down these beats that everyone bobbed and danced around too. Yawn.

I don’t know what the heck the rhythm guitarist was even doing. He kept playing all these jazz chords that made the music so textured and grooving. And he didn’t even use a distortion pedal. What a pretentious pansy! Like, Oooh, listen to my sonically interesting chordal progressions. Invert this buddy!

The Sax player was cool. He had a Mohawk. But I couldn’t follow his playing because his chops and musical prowess were beyond my understanding. I wasn’t a big fan of his rich, soulful tone either. Rumor had it he was from Berklee School of Music. Whatever. He thought he was some gift from God to music too, because he would switch over to organ on some songs and totally rip it up. If I wanted to go to church I would have. Choir boy.

Somewhere around the third song the singers finally got involved. It was so bogus though! This little Chinese dude gets up and belts out this huge, powerful, soulful, bluesy voice. The crowd looked shocked and pleasantly amazed, but I knew better. Total F’in Lip Sync. Busted! Nice try. They probably had Greg Allman back stage singing into a hidden microphone. His lead guitar playing was pretty nasty though. Blistering and bluesy. His back-up singers were way too good to be true too. There’s no way you can blend 3 and sometimes 4 voices and come up with such a big, rich sound. I tried it with my band once, and it sounded ok, but the dog wouldn’t stop barking at us. It was too frustrating, so we stopped.

Long story short, these guys played all night, and none of their songs sounded the same, which really confused me. Was I in a rock club, a groovy jazz bar, a 1970’s disco, down by the river with my baby, getting irie in Jamaica, or at some ho down on the bayou? I had never heard most of the songs they played, and the few that I recognized were done all differently. The place got too crowded and I was sick of seeing everyone having such a good time. So around 2 am, I left. One thing I meant to find out though was who the frick is Handsome Frank? Next time those guys play around here, I’m going to ask them.