Some singer-songwriters begin documenting their writing skills almost as soon as they pick up their instruments, resulting in a tentative progress report rather than a finished product. Frank Bienkowski took the opposite route: The local songwriter let the ideas for 16 songs gestate and grow over the nearly 20 years since he first figured out how to turn a set of chords into a tune.
After a few unsatisfying studio sessions, he hooked up with Doug Wilkin, who provided a recording studio, an extra set of ears and solid bass and guitar lines. Between the two of them, they shepherded along what ultimately became Imagination Blind, credited to "F'n Mess featuring Frank Bienkowski."
Part of that "mess" was a diverse group of local musicians who dropped by the studio over the past two years: drummers Mark Weakland and Jim DiSpirito (of Rusted Root); underground rock veteran Sam Matthews (on mandolin); and violinist Bob Banerjee, to name but a few. All of them give the songs on Imagination Blind different colors that serve to support Bienkowski's narrative skills.
While his voice often gets a little shaky on some sustained notes, Bienkowski has a naturally strong delivery that makes up for technical shortcomings. A few misfired attempts at social commentary notwithstanding, Bienkowski comes across as an imaginative wordsmith. "Fear of Flying" offers a strong example, putting a new metaphorical spin on the relationship song, with a set of lyrics that flows smoothly for six minutes. "Regina on the Wall" tells the story of a painter's suppressed artistry in a manner than reads like prose even as it functions as lyrics.
Sometimes slow and steady is the way to go.
Frank Bienkowski CD release, with special guests. 8 p.m. Sat., March 10 (doors at 7:30 p.m.). The Union Project, 801 N. Negley Ave., Highland Park. $5 ($10 includes CD). 412 363-4550 or www.unionproject.org