Paula Frazer – A Place Where I Know (4-Track Songs 1992-2002)

Paula Frazer
A Place Where I Know (4-Track Songs 1992-2002)

Despite over a decade of hard work on the periphery of the alt-country scene she has helped to define – firstly with Tarnation and more recently as a solo artist – Paula Frazer is still a hugely under-sung talent. It’s only recently that recognition has come her away, often indirectly, through her live and studio collaborations with Tindersticks, Mark Eitzel, James William Hindle, The Czars, and Cornershop. Blessed with a voice that holds an earthy yet otherworldly presence that Neko Case can still only dream about (and that’s saying something) and a sturdy grasp on the whole Morricone-meets-Patsy Cline schtick, Paula Frazer is well overdue for a respectful retrospective release, and this is where A Place Where I Know comes in, kind of.
Instead of taking the safer (though contractually tricky) route of compiling past recordings from three Tarnation albums or from her first solo release Indoor Universe, Frazer has instead rooted around in her own recording archives to bring together many of her favourite old songs (plus a few previously unreleased cuts) in reassuringly lo-fi demo form. It’s a brave move commercially and artistically but one that reaps plentiful dividends. Besides, most of her Tarnation material is still in print via 4AD and her solo debut is still pretty fresh on the shelves, so why not excavate the blueprints and secret sketches of her past glories to cast a fresh perspective on her role as a dusty visionary?
By focusing upon her rich haunted tones (often double-tracked and self-harmonising) and on her desolate electric/acoustic guitar-playing we get somewhat closer to the essence of Frazer’s unpretentious mission to replicate/update authentic shades of lost Americana. From the porchlight strum of the gorgeous “Idly” (originally released on Tarnation’s Mirador), through the lilting but dread-laden “Long Ago” (previously unreleased) to the twangy gallop of “An Awful Shade of Blue” (another Mirador track), Frazer’s command of her dynamic vocal range and her songwriting craftsmanship rarely comes unstuck. And in some cases the fuzz, hiss, wow, and flutter of these very roughly laid-down recordings brings us closer to the sonic template Frazer keeps in her head; it’s like listening to ancient country 78s spinning on a gramophone with a worn-down needle or picking-up a lost 1950s radio transmission beamed in though some time/space wormhole whilst driving across the Mexican-American border.
Admittedly, this demo-based compendium isn’t a perfect representation of Frazer’s talents; the more fulsome film noire aesthetic of her finest Tarnation recordings perhaps shows some of these songs in a better light. Furthermore, it’s frustrating that three beautiful bonus “live-in-hallway” tracks are only playable/viewable via the CD-Rom video element of this collection, though some audiophiles will no doubt find a sneaky means of transferring them to a more universal listening medium. Qualms aside, this compilation is an essential purchase for Frazer fanatics and for discerning admirers of rural Americana alike.