Paula Frazer & Tarnation

Amoeba San Francisco - June 29th @ 6:00pm

Paula Frazer and Tarnation perform live at Amoeba SF on Thursday, June 29th at 6pm in honor of her first new album in ten years, What Is And Was (out June 30th on New High Recordings). Get the album a day before release date and get it signed after the set.

Paula Frazer hasn’t put out an album in ten years. This eighth release has been in production for five years. One may ask, how does it come to pass that such a breathtaking singing voice is allowed to languish in obscurity like this when you consider the impeccable quality of her music, the ethereal purity of her voice, the string of near perfect records she released every couple years since the early ’90s?

Anyone lucky enough to catch the current lineup of Tarnation performing live gets to enjoy a startling combination of musical personalities. These songs may stir up emotions you didn’t know you had. What Is And Was has perfect, understated harmonies and instrumentation, reinforced by Sam Berman’s steady drumming and the lush pedal steel guitar of virtuosic David Cuetter. 

The new album also features several of Paula’s longtime musical collaborators: Patrick Main and Justin Frahm on keyboards, and backing vocals by Elisa Randazzo, Amy Fowler, and Greg of The Moore Brothers. A half dozen other stalwart Bay Area musical entities appear, all adding to the gorgeous lush sound herein. For those unfamiliar with Paula and her music, the question may arise: “Where does this unearthly beautiful sound come from?”

Paula grew up between Georgia and Arkansas. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and her mother a piano teacher, who got Paula her first guitar when she was nine, and introduced her to George Gershwin, Billie Holiday, and the contemporary music of the 1960s and ’70s. She sang in the church choir, and by 13 was fronting a rock band called Straye, who played at local parties in the style of Bad Company and covered “Free Bird.”

By 16, Paula was making cassette demos of folky music in the style of Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac. When she was 18 a friend invited her to visit San Francisco; she found a home and a job in her first week there, and while walking through the Tenderloin one day, ran into the punk club Sound of Music. In 1983, she helped to form the all-female band Fright Wig, but in ’85 (before they released anything) she opted to head back to Arkansas, where she toured with Declaration of Love. Before leaving SF she played with Pleasant Day and a band called Trial, which featured Desmond Shea, who has helped to record, engineer, and co-produce many of her records (including this one), and John Borruso, who created this album’s artwork.

Upon returning, she started her own band, Tarnation, which originally included Brandon Kearney whose label Nuf Sed released the Cloiter EP that Paula played on and the first Tarnation album, I’ll Give You Something to Cry About. A few years (and lineup changes) later, Mark Kozelek of the Red House Painters introduced her music to the folks at UK label 4AD who released Gentle Creatures in 1995 and then Mirador a couple years later, released in the US by Reprise/Warner Bros; she signed a two-record contract with the major label, but got out of the deal upon realizing they wanted to send her to Nashville to work with a producer who would supply her with songs and form her into something – none of which seemed like a good idea at the time. She ended up releasing four critically acclaimed albums on Birdman Records and toured quite a bit, including dates in Europe with her hero Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Finding herself without a band in 2010, she formed Skystone, a psychedelic trio with guitarist Brock Galland and drummer Royce Seader, whose recordings remain unreleased.

During all this time, Paula’s music has maintained an inner consistency in both quality and style, and it’s a testament to her soft spoken Taurean temperament and strength of character that she’s never caved to the whims of the industry or dictates of the press. What you get here is what you’ve always gotten from Paula Frazer and Tarnation. Somewhere between country, Americana/folk, and singer-songwriter pop, it’s simply beautiful music, uniquely haunting, and full of uplifting melancholy.

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