After inspiring innumerable bands as the Pixies' frontman, Frank Black spent the early '90s watching his progeny outdistance him commercially and critically as he struggled to find an identity as a solo artist. Giving up may have been his smartest move. Though inconsistent, Black's three albums with The Catholics (Frank Black And The Catholics, Pistolero, and the new Dog In The Sand) display a refreshing love of carefully crafted and intensely performed pop-rock. Again recorded live to two-track ("I foresee a time when we will record to wax cylinder, or perhaps a release only on sheet music," Black jokes on his web site), Dog In The Sand nicely varies the formula of its two predecessors. Bringing in new players—including Pere Ubu keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman and, on a few tracks, ex-Pixie Joey Santiago—Black peppers the mix with Southwestern flourishes to compelling effect. The best album of The Catholics' career, it strikes a balance between sharp hooks and expansive melodies, the extended lineup filling out a spare, open sound. Whether it will attract new listeners is another matter. Fans who checked out on Black after his early solo efforts probably owe him another chance, but for the most part, he doesn't seem to care about such matters. A cult artist comfortable with his status, Black clearly relishes the freedom of lowered expectations. "I want to be a singer like Lou Reed," Black once sang, and his recent albums have found him entering his own Blue Mask/Legendary Hearts period, one in which maturity and rock 'n' roll find an uneasily peaceable coexistence.