As Frank Black gears up for the Jan. 30th release of "Dog In The Sand" -- his third album with backing band the Catholics and first on new label What Are Records? -- the journeyman singer/so

As Frank Black gears up for the Jan. 30th release of "Dog In The Sand" -- his third album with backing band the Catholics and first on new label What Are Records? -- the journeyman singer/songwriter/guitarist seems a happy man.

Black's public profile isn't nearly as high as it was a decade ago, when he was Black Francis, the boisterous frontman of alt-rock paragons the Pixies, or even in the early days of his solo career, when he fueled his post-Pixies creative energies into multifaceted albums like 1994's "Teenager Of The Year."

Nevertheless, Black (born Charles Thompson) is in a position he enjoys. He fronts a band he loves, records the way he wants to, and tours the old-fashioned way, driving across the country in a van full of equipment and good friends.

Though you wouldn't know it to listen to the record, "Dog In The Sand" was recorded in the same throwback fashion as the first two Catholics records: live to two-track, without any edits or overdubs.

"It's fun," Black says of the recording process. "You feel like a tough guy; like Frank Sinatra. We just walk in the studio, I say 'one, two, three, four!' and we just start playing together. It's the oldest thing in the world. It makes you feel like a real musician."

But this time there was a bit of a twist to the sessions. Previous albums -- 1998's "Frank Black And The Catholics" and 1999's "Pistolero" -- featured only the four regular band members -- Black, drummer Scott Boutier, bassist David McCaffrey, and guitarist Rich Gilbert (who replaced Lyle Workman for "Pistolero").

But for "Dog," Black brought in keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman, a music biz-veteran who's worked with Captain Beefheart, Pere Ubu, and PJ Harvey, as well as three additional guitarists: Morris Tepper, Dave Philips, and former Pixies bandmate Joey Santiago. Having so many people in the studio brought an extra edge to the music, Black explains.

"The arrangements (on "Dog") are a little more sophisticated than they would be with a four-piece band," he says. "[Having more people playing] gives you the opportunity to exercise restraint, because there's more going on. It's nice to be able to remain live to two-track, but try to achieve a record that sounds like a multi-tracked record."

Experiences like this have helped Black and his bandmates hone the classic rock-and-roll dynamics of the Catholics' live show, now on display at various clubs across the country. Black will close out a month of pre-release touring with two solo acoustic performances at New York's Mercury Lounge in early February and then head overseas with the whole band for two months of European shows before returning to the U.S. in April.

According to What Are Records? Retail Director Dave Coviello, the label plans to focus its promotional efforts for "Dog In The Sand" in the top ten independent markets. "We'll also be doing lots of guerilla marketing involving our volunteer field staff, who will be advancing tour dates and setting up small promotions locally with record stores," Coviello says. The W.A.R.? field staff program offers fans of the label's bands free admission to concerts in exchange for actively promoting the concerts in their local areas.

W.A.R. and Black will give fans a chance to hear directly from the artist two days before the album's release in an online chat Sunday (Jan. 28) at www.musictoday.com. The chat will begin at 3 p.m. EST, and Black will answer questions fans submit to the site via email starting at 1 p.m. EST.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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