Rita Hosking is a staple of the country/folk scene, a heavily acclaimed artist who is known for her hard-hitting lyrics set upon sweet musical backdrops. Her sixth album ‘Frankie And The No-Go Road’, is no different, building upon her reputation as someone who sings about hardship and real life. Northern Californian native Rita is the descendent of Cornish miners, with the folksong they would indulge in during their working hours the foundation of her musical upbringing. Splitting her time between the US and the UK and honoring both aspects of her heritage, her new record dropped on September 22 on home soil and will find its way to the British Isles on October 30, accompanied by a subsequent tour in November.
However, ‘Frankie And The No-Go Road’, while essentially a continued evolution of Rita’s artistic development that began back in 2005, is also a marked departure from her conventional material. The concept for the record arrived while she was drawing, and she realized that she was outlining a hero’s journey that she could interpret through song. She decided to make an entire record out of the tale she had created, inspired by the words of an Eastern Religions professor she had had in college who reminded her that we are all living our own hero’s journey. As a result, the experiences and subsequent realizations of Frankie can be applied universally; in other words, s/he represents us all and the answers that we are searching for in life.
Each of the songs on this carefully-crafted Americana album are penned in extreme vignette, and often the lyrics only convey part of the puzzle, or a blurry, ambiguous image of it; to guide us more purposefully through the exact meaning of each track, Rita has included a very short description underneath the titles as they run in chronological order inside the album sleeve. She opens with the sweet waltz ‘A Better Day’, which is described as “Frankie sees room for improvement in world”. Lamenting all that she sees as wrong, this feeling of helplessness at the problems around us is something that many of us relate to, as every day the news is full of yet more bad news. The next track is ‘Wetiko’, named after a word for soul-eater and often described as “the bug which feeds the experience of terror within our mind and out in the world”. Rita’s description is apt; “Villain at fault becomes apparent” gives us our first revelation in that our biggest opponent is fear. It immediately goes some way to answering the first track, which questions why there is so much wrong in the world.
Yet, even Frankie isn’t immune from such a never-ending cycle. The Applachian folk-infused ‘Magic Carpet’ comes with the explanation “Frankie ponders flight from challenge”, highlighting the fear that encompasses us even after we are aware it is fear that is holding us back. The mountain bluegrass of ‘Power Moving In’, meanwhile, has the slightly more cryptic accompaniment of “Teachers, tools unveil themselves”, but with the context we are now afforded it becomes quickly clear that just before Frankie backs out from the challenge she finds herself presented with the help she needs. As a result, ‘I See Storms’ is pretty self-explanatory with its line “Frankie commits to journey”. Still, that commitment is not without its trepidation, as she surveys the challenges ahead of her.
The 60s folk revival of ‘Our Land’ has much wider implications that for a second draw us out from the story and remind us of how it applies to real life. “Character tested, friends and adversaries marked” reads the description, as the song details our forming of values and figuring out what we each represent and believe. The album’s title track of sorts comes next, and the music takes on a quieter, steely quality; “Hero approaches villain’s den”. We all find ourselves coming face to face with things we resolutely argue against, and one lyric describes it perfectly: “It’s enough to find out what you believe, it’s enough to make you sing,” tying in the meaning of the previous track and also that of the final one. Things build with the oddly sweet ditty ‘Black Hole’, simply put as “Frankie faces ordeal”, but perhaps the most important track on the record is ‘Mama Said’. “Hero confronts villain, sees self”, it says. As with ‘Wetiko’, we are faced with the knowledge that our only enemy is ourselves. “We are one and the same,” Rita sings, as she emphasizes the dark and light that is present in all of us.
But the story’s not over, and the dynamic banjo-led ‘Spirit Canoe’ highlights the struggles fought over coming to terms with the truth, “with new knowledge, Frankie makes jeopardous trip back”. The raw country pop of ‘Resurrection’, meanwhile, is a resolution of sorts. “Tested again upon return, hero challenges conventional behaviors, beliefs” says the description, and this is where the album’s undercurrents of faith see a more concrete light of day. “What if Jesus has returned here, how many times have we killed him?” She asks, reminding that for us, there are no second chances at life, and we must resolve to be better human beings. The final track, ‘Sing’, wraps things up, “Frankie continues journey, greater wisdom to share”. In many ways this represents the cycle of our journeys, as we go through hardship and self-discovery to learn new things, and then we impart our new wisdom on others, before starting all over again.
Despite initially seeming beautifully simplistic, there is a huge depth to this album that is overwhelming. Through children’s drawings and plain poetry Rita has been able to craft an incredibly intuitive analysis of the world and human nature, herself imparting her new wisdom on us, her listeners, so we can spread the word. I feel more informed for having spent time with this album, and you should too.