Frog and Henry are the most interesting of several cooperative bands with fluid lineups coming together around a musical idea. In their case, that idea is to revive the string and brass band instrumentation of the early part of the last century and focus on early jazz, ragtime, and jug band material.
Recorded live to tape in England towards the end of February, (equipment details are provided for those who savor such things,) this album charts a different course from the impressively originalist jazz and ragtime that so impressed me when I reviewed their first two records last year. On those records, they took songs recorded by Noone, Oliver, Piron and other early jazzmen and presented them in a fashion that somehow felt even earlier.
From Frog and Henry 2018
This album instead feels just in time, with a focus on sweet songs of the 20s and 30s. Some of the titles on their 2018 album already drifted in this direction, and I like the way they are headed. There isn’t enough sweetness in the world of early jazz.Like Tuba Skinny with whom they share members, but not a style, Frog and Henry are excellent at unearthing lost gems waiting for a bit of polish. The highlight of this album is a fantastic delivery of Al Bowlly’s “In My Little Red Book”. Honoring a previous request I won’t give band members names but the male vocal on this album, had he lived in the 20s and 30s, would have joined the ranks of Rudy Vallee and Chick Bullock as a national star. His voice is his own but its appeal crosses time and fits these selections perfectly.
The album begins with the instrumental “Don’t Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve” a lovely tune by the Four Bright Sparks, a Columbia records band from right around 1930 which seems to be the temporal sweet spot of this album. Other instrumental numbers include “Mama’s Gone Goodbye” an early one from Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra that is given a knockout arrangement honoring the pure ensemble sound.
Tom Turpin’s “St. Louis Rag” gets a slow and playful treatment that really captures the bands signature instrumental style. Jelly Roll Morton’s Shreveport Stomp is the hottest number, working as a nice pick me up at the halfway mark, though the second half of “When You and I were Young Maggie” also gets into a wonderful groove.
But it is the sweet songs that will stay with you. Rudy Vallee’s “Deep Night” is simply gorgeous. Strings, brass, and piano meld beautifully on “Love in Bloom”, an early hit for Bing Crosby. The album gently rows to a close with Guy Lombardo’s 1931 “By The River St. Marie”.
Frog and Henry utilize top instrumentalists from several countries and have already traveled widely. But they are just getting started and I truly believe they are “the next big thing”.
Where Tuba Skinny has inspired international interest in New Orleans jazz, F & H have the potential to cast that net further and revive other vintage styles from string band rags to popular song while maintaining a unique sound that is their own. For more background on the band, I encourage you to read my review of their first two albums from the October 2018 issue, and please explore all three of their releases yourself on their Bandcamp page.