Album Review: Frank Turner – The Third Three Years (B-sides collection)

Frank Turner Third Three Years
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Folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner stays true to his DIY hardcore roots by releasing a third b-sides collection with a nod to Black Flag.

Turner had hardcore/punk origins as front man of the band Million Dead. After Million Dead, er … died, Turner began a solo career with a folk sound along the lines of Billy Bragg and the late Joe Strummer. He’s worked hard touring and recording consistently over the years, and now has begun to achieve relative commercial success, having headlined at Wembley Arena and played at the London Olympics opening ceremony in recent years.

This is Turner’s third collection of b-sides, following his last album Tape Deck Heart. The title and album art  are inspired by The First Four Years from seminal hardcore outfit Black Flag.

I’m a bit late to the party reviewing this album, but sometimes it takes a while for things to arrive in New Zealand when I have to order them from overseas. It was worth the wait though.

I’ve kept up with some of Turner’s non-album output, such as Daytrotter sessions, but I was pleased to discover that Third Three Years contained music that was almost entirely new to me, including some unreleased gems. The collection comprises of covers,  b-sides from EP’s and singles and obscure recording sessions.

In fact, nearly half the collection are up of covers. Turner covers his bases with his choices. There are classic bands (Queen, Tom Petty), folk singers (Townes Van Zandt) and punk artists (Tony Sly, The Weakerthans). These covers do well to encompass Turner’s very British style of folk-punk. Many of the covers are stripped back, giving the overall album a more somber feel. But hey, anybody who can take on a song by Freddie Mercury and do it justice deserves a thumbs up in my books.

There are a few alternative outtakes from his latest album, Tape Deck Heart. My favourite from that album, “The Way I Tend To Be” is given different treatment with extra mandolin and piano.

There are two collaborations with other artists. “Happy New Year” is a humourous and unpretentious ditty with Jon Snodgrass and “Fields Of June” is a country number by Emily Barker that Turner features on. These duets work nicely to add a bit of variety to the mix.

The rest of the songs are just what you’d expect, punk ethos singer-songwriter music with breathless singing and swear-word filled shouting. Although this is what I expected, I didn’t expect so much solo work. Turner’s touring band, The Sleeping Souls seem absent from these recordings. A few songs are collaborations with other musicians – Revival Tour style DIY camaraderie – but other than a mandolin, organ or added guitar accompaniment here or there, there is a marked lack of a full band of most tracks. The Sleeping Souls are credited on nine songs, but it’s pretty subtle because they’re hard to detect.

B-sides collections like these are never as strong as a cohesive studio album, but can offer rare gems for the diehard fans. There are a lot of songs (21!), and although most are not considered ‘good enough’ to make the cut, fans won’t be disappointed. And they should know what to expect, because any serious Frank Turner will likely have The First Three Years and The Second Three Years anyway.

Overall this album is a bit too sedate to get regular play through my speakers. There is more of a folk focus than punk. I’m more likely to select the handful of songs that I enjoy more and include them in playlists than listen to the entire collection. But just to show that he’s not getting soft, Turner closes off the CD with a rip-roaring live version of “Dan’s Song”. It’s furiously fast and explosive, just like punk music should be.

Frank Turner put on an excellent show in Wellington in April 2013 with his backing band, The Sleeping Souls. He’s returning this April to play sideshows from the Byron Bay Bluesfest. Details can be found through the Chicks That Scream Facebook page.

Joseph James

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