Look, let’s be honest here: this is probably not an album that Frank Turner needed to make. I was skeptical when I heard about it, and while I understand the sentiment and desire, Frank or no, I don’t need men to tell me about women anymore. At all. Ever. I don’t really need men to tell me anything about anything. Thanks.
But this record did get made, and it got made by Frank, and … I like it. I like a lot of it a lot. Because I like Frank’s music. Because I like Frank’s songwriting. Because if a man did have to make a record all about women in history, Frank did it earnestly and interestingly. There are a few tracks I could do without – “The Silent Key” is both a little tone deaf and also a lot sonically boring in the middle of a rather dynamic-sounding album, and none of the songs needed to be in the first person, especially not “The Hymn of Kassiani” – but it is, on the whole, an often charming, sometimes brilliant effort.
I think it starts stronger than it finishes – “Jenny Bingham’s Ghost”, a murder ballad that had a baby with DeVotchKa covering a sea chanty, is my favorite track on the record, and “I Believe You, William Blake” is strange and eerie and utterly representative of Blake’s weirdo mysticism and his wife Catherine’s enduring love for him – but the final track is “Rosemary Jane”, and while the back half is weaker than the front, “Rosemary Jane” is five minutes of pure, unadulterated love for Frank’s own mother, and I give him plenty damn credit for that one. (It’s also beautifully aching.) The back to back of “The Death of Dora Hand” and “The Graveyard of the Outcast Dead” in the middle of the record is probably the strongest one-two punch on the whole thing.
It isn’t a perfect record. It’s certainly not anywhere close to the genius and clarity and sharp-eyed observation of Be More Kind, but what was going to be? It’s got some tracks that are going to absolutely slay in the live set (see the aforementioned “Jenny Bingham’s Ghost” and “The Death of Dora Hand”). It’s a very good album, made by one of the best songwriters working today. That’s it. It can be that simple: this record, while not necessary, is still pretty great.
Frank has a podcast, with one episode for each song, that explains in further depth the stories of these women, and his interest in their stories. It’s called “Tales From No Man’s Land” and it’s on all of your favorite podcatchers and Spotify. It’s definitely worth listening to in concert with the record itself.