Innocence is Bliss
(Kool Kat Musik)
Frank Royster's Innocence is Bliss is a heady helping of perfectly produced power-pop, Beatles-accented guitar rock, and bittersweet balladry. A follow-up to his 2006 solo debut Thru the Years, this new set may have more than a few retro nuances and moments of derivation, but the tight mix of classic pop stylings keeps things focused.
The singer/guitarist is a veteran player in the Charleston band scene — a versatile power-pop expert who easily can rock out with the amps cranked up (as he regularly does in the hard-working bar rock band The Hed Shop Boys) or step aside into more delicate and melodic sonic ground. On Innocence is Bliss, he puts his more sentimental and romantic personality up front.
Far from a homemade production, Royster obviously spent a considerable amount of time and effort on the making of the album. He recorded all of the songs at Hooverama Studios in Charlotte with top-notch engineer Jamie Hoover, who added some extra guitar tracks here and there as well. In the backing tracks, Royster got a little help from his friends (drummer Tommy Hamer and bassist Julian Volpe), along with his longtime collaborator/guitarist Todd Mayson.
The album features 12 originals and a version of the Fab Four's "Every Little Thing." Inevitably, many of the tunes echo the best of the British Invasion and the pleasingly sappy pop star productions of the early 1970s. It's a mixed bag. The melodic lead-off track "Mr. Wonderful" and ultra-catchy "Can't You Make Me Smile?" pull from the simple sophistication of 1964-era McCartney songcraft. The more punkish "Life's a Bore" stomps like a cool Cheap Trick number, with clever instrumentation (tambourine, harmonica, piano) and intricate vocal parts over a four-chord romp.
With Royster's raspy pining, the back-to-back punch of "Oh Mary" and "I Need You" delivers a little too much sugary sweetness, but there are some truly stellar tracks on either side of the set.
Whether on rockers or ballads, Royster comes across as a dreamer who's been in and out of love, still unwilling to disconnect from optimism and hopefulness. It's his most refined and confident work yet. (myspace.com/franklinroyster)
Frank Royster and a full backing band perform an official CD release show at Jimbo's Rock Lounge (1662 Savannah Hwy., 843-225-2200) on Fri. April 16.