The reggae-soul sound of The Frightnrs was introduced to me through a listen in a local store. The band was an unknown commodity up to that point, but the music’s richly organic feel — a mix of pre-Marley ska and reggae inspirations that sounded like a precursor to ‘60s pop — was instantly appealing. The band name was a kick, too. What a hoot it would be to save this for a review around Halloween.
That was before the band’s back story revealed itself.
Hailing from Jamaica — as in Queens, not the country — The Frightnrs were fronted by lead singer Daniel Klein, who died of ALS over the summer. That meant much of “Nothing More to Say” was recorded after his diagnosis, making the record as much a reflection of fleeting mortality as a celebration of reggae-fied pop. Needless to say, it also gives the album title a megaton sense of sad irony.
Don’t let that be what guides you to this wonderful album, though. I listened to it throughout the weeks of late summer and early autumn and found it to be an extraordinary soundtrack for the season. That it was recorded for the mighty indie soul music label Daptone all but ensured a sense of rootsy authenticity. But once the album’s opening one-two punch of “All MyTears” and the record’s title tune was established, you couldn’t help but buy into the kind of retro-directed world of The Frightnrs.
The groove is light, established as much by the piano punctuation of Chuck Patel as the rock steady rhythm section of bassist Preet Patel and drummer/percussionist Rich Terrana. But it’s Klein’s effortless soul falsetto, an epic wail that constructs drama and desperation without once sounding forced, that lights the fuse of The Frightnrs. The resulting impact is so effortless and immediate that you almost forget “Nothing More to Say” is even a reggae record. As graceful as the groove becomes, it’s the singing that detonates the music, reminding us this is, first and foremost, a soul record of timeless authenticity. Reggae is simply the means of transportation.
The quartet gets some modest help as the vintage organ colors of producer Victor Axelrod flesh out several tunes, including the reggae-soul crooner “Gonna Make Time” while the modest guitar rhythms Thomas Brenneck and Michael August help propel the easygoing urgency and groove of “Trouble in Here” and the dub-savvy “Dispute.”
In the end, though, this is a vital statement of reggae-soul testimony from Klein, an album that forms a painfully brief but wildly profound musical legacy. So forget the band name. The Frightnrs, at least on the basis of this sublime record, are all about musical mood, dignity and class. What a stunning work.