Marking her 10th anniversary as a recording artist, North Californian singer-songwriter Rita Hosking’s sixth album seems set to follow in the wake of its predecessors in accruing glowing reviews and awards. She talks of it as a sort of concept album, in that the songs are an exploration of a journey through life. She explains how they are inspired by the “twelve steps of the hero’s journey” as featured in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, a book on comparative mythology by Joseph Campbell.
The hero of this album, Frankie, is up against a great challenge or Wétiko, a half-beast creature that features in Native American legends. Rita cites Jack Forbes’ Columbus and Other Cannibals, a book written from a Native American point of view, as the source of inspiration (She also refers to Forbes,the former chair of the Native American Studies Dept. at U.C. Davis, as a mentor). The Native American inspiration is carried over into Rita’s own beautiful illustrations featured on the sleeve and booklet which are inspired by the famous Ojibwe painter, Norval Morrisseau who founded the Woodlands School of Canadian art.
Produced by Rich Brotherton who shares the bulk of the instrumentation with Hosking, it also features the ubiquitous Glenn Fukunaga on upright bass, husband Sean Feder on dobro and djembe and daughter Kora on harmonies.
In the lyric book, each song has a thumbnail summary, opener, A Better Day, being how Frankie sees room for improvement in the world. It’s a slow march number that sets out her folk-Americana stall, followed by the banjo accompanied, bluesy Wétiko, the title, whilst referring to a legendary canabalistic monster mentioned above, also refers to a type of sickness where individuals take on Wétiko characteristcs. It is in the latter reference that the lyrics refer to the ‘mind virus’ that renders people oblivious to their own madness, compelling them to act against their own best interests.
In contrast to Wetkio‘s claustrophobic intensity, Magic Carpet, accompanied by Andy Lentz on fiddle, is a much airier number about running away from challenges before, adopting the opposite lyrical stance, things take a mountain music turn on the banjo-driven Power Moving In. The reference to the coyote (known as a spirit animal representing amongst other things: wisdom, trickery, cunning and folly) is picked up on the following Emmylou-ish country twang of I See Storms (Frankie commits to journey).
However, while all these are solid enough, it’s not until the sixth track that the album really gets into its stride with the harmonica-introed world-weary Our Land, a simple but powerful acoustic 60s-like protest song about the disenfranchisement of the Native Americans on which she sings “we don’t want your blood money mister, we just want back our land.” It also references the American retail corporation Wal-mart which has built stores on Native American native land, dug up their graves during construction and mined for gold for which the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination has ruled in favour of the Western Shoshone and told the United States to “freeze”, “desist”, and “stop” from further mining and other destructive activities (read more about it here).
The subsequent (semi) title track keeps the bar high, Hosking’s warble recalling Buffy Sainte-Marie, as does the relaxed, easy rolling Black Hole’s snapshot of a working life with no light at the end of the tunnel and a chorus of “my friends join hands, they pass a piece of pain around.”
Incorporating the fable about the dog scared of drinking by his own reflection in the water, the spooked bluegrass of Mama Said (“will you die with ambition or fear”) echoes the Wétiko idea of how we can be our own worst enemy, the album gathering its musical strength and muscle for the final stretch with the jagged banjo playing of the tribal rhythm Spirit Canoe. Calm returns on the acoustic anthemic Resurrection, another standout number with Hosking’s voice in magnificent form (part Iris De Ment, part Dar Williams) as she soars through the chorus “there will be no resurrection, no raising of the dead. Still they’re calling from the valleys, come back come back come back again.” This track alone ensures the album’s place in the year’s best of lists.
And, finally, there’s Sing (Frankie continues, greater wisdom to share), a simple, inspiring encouragement to put fear behind us, “put your head to the mountain” and do everything with heart. It’s an insightful and inspirational journey, one you really should share every step of the way.
Review by: Mike Davies
Frankie and The No Go Road is Out Now
UK Tour Dates
Nov 19 – Stirrin It Up North, Haile
Nov 20 – String Jam Club @ County Hotel, Selkirk, Scotland
Nov 21 – Seven Arts, Leeds
Nov 24 – B Bar Barbican, Plymouth, UK
Nov 25 – The Greys, Brighton
Nov 26 – KPH, Ladbroke Grove, London
Nov 27 – The Whistable Sessions, Whistable
Nov 28 – Hunton Village Hall, Hunton
Photo Credit: Sean Feder