Saturday, October 1, 2016

CD Review: The Frost's The Best of the Frost (1969/2003)

The Frost's The Best of the Frost
Detroit's the Frost is one of the truly great lost rock & roll outfits of the '60s. Led by the fiery guitar chops of Dick Wagner, who would go onto greater fame as an integral part of both Lou Reed and Alice Cooper's late '70s bands, the Frost pioneered a hard rock sound that would influence countless bands in the Motor City and beyond. Unlike a lot of fledgling hard rock guitarists in the late '60s, Wagner's musical influences leaned more towards British Invasion bands and the kind of psychedelic pomp championed by the early Pink Floyd rather than towards recycled blues licks. This provided Wagner's guitar playing with a tone and structure that was unique at the time, the Frost's eclectic sound blazing new trails by blending folk and rock with loud amplification and an energy and power that was seldom matched by the band's contemporaries.

The Best Of The Frost is a misnomer in some ways, a dead-on descriptive bull's eye in others. The story goes like this – the band and producer Sam Charters were unhappy with the sound they created in the studio for the band's critically acclaimed debut Frost Music. They decided to record the Frost's sophomore effort live, in front of a hometown audience at Detroit's fabled Grande Ballroom. Due to the raw sound of the performances, captured on tape during two nights at the Ballroom, the band and Charters "doctored" them in the studio, adding vocals and overdubs to concoct a more commercially acceptable album. The result, Rock And Roll Music, was a hybrid that wasn't a studio album and never really a true representation of the band's live skills.

The Best of the Frost corrects the oversight made back in 1969, offering the modern music fan a taste of what the band sounded like in front of an appreciative crowd. Charters has revived these ancient tapes for the digital age, doing a fine job in retaining the raw edge that made the Frost one of the Midwest's hottest live bands circa '69. The Best of the Frost draws liberally from the second album that the Ballroom performances would become, revisiting five of the album's songs, adding "Take My Hand," "Baby Once You've Got It" and the minor hit "Mystery Man" from Frost Music. "Black As Night" and "Fifteen Hundred Miles" would later show up on the band's third and final album.

The performances on The Best of the Frost are stellar, Wagner and second guitarist Don Hartman taking center stage, supported by a fine rhythm section in bassist Gordy Garris and drummer Bob Rigg. Musically, the Frost were probably five years or so ahead of their time, songs like "Sweet Lady Love" or "Black As Night" foreshadowing the chart-topping mid-'70s hard rock of artists like Alice Cooper and Grand Funk Railroad. Wagner's vocals are engaging but not spectacular, effective in a sort of '60s rock scream and shout style. The band's enormous energy and sheer volume raised the bar for later bands like GFR and Deep Purple, however, and the fluid interplay between Wagner and Hartman is simply dazzling, illustrated by the extended instrumental intro to "Take My Hand" or with the chiming guitars of the country-flavored "Black Train."

Wagner would disband the Frost after the band failed to achieve any sort of commercial success with its third album, Through The Eyes Of Love, released in 1970. He would form the short-lived Ursa Major for a lone album release in 1972, a growing friendship with producer Bob Ezrin leading to a partnership with guitarist Steve Hunter and a role in creating some of the best-loved music of the '70s. Wagner subsequently contributed his enormous talents to Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare and Lou Reed's Rock 'N Roll Animal as well as albums by Aerosmith, Peter Gabriel, and Kiss.

With the Frost, however, Wagner created the blueprint for much of the music to follow in the '70s, his singular lead guitar style, supported and challenged by a secondary rhythm guitarist, becoming a staple of hard rock and heavy metal for the next thirty years. The Best of the Frost offers long-suffering fans a (somewhat) new recording and provides a fine stepping stone for newcomers to discover an exciting, influential, guitar-driven rock 'n' roll band. Much to their credit, Vanguard has kept all three of the Frost's studio albums in print, allowing the band a chance to expand upon its long overdue legacy. (Vanguard Records, released March 11, 2004)

Buy the CD from The Frost's The Best of the Frost

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2004

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