[purchase, priced in Canadian dollars]
Based on the example of his new album, Late Edition, David Francey is an economical man. By that, I mean that he uses only as many words and as much music as he needs to make his point. The twelve songs on Late Edition run about a half hour total. There are solos, but nothing flashy, and the arrangements of this music are little marvels of efficiency. Make no mistake, Francey is a man of deep feelings and strong opinions. He just doesn’t need a lot of space to show it.
Francey sings in a somewhat scratchy baritone. All of the songs here are either Francey originals or co-writes of his, but on Late Edition, he does not play an instrument. I probably wouldn’t either if I had a band that included Kieran Kane, Fats Kaplan, and Richard Bennett. Drummer Lucas Kane has a most unusual role here. Bennett plays acoustic or electric guitar, except for his beautiful bouzouki part on the song Wonder. His electric guitar playing has an acoustic quality, and is mainly used to vary the sound and texture of the music. Kieran Kane, who also co-wrote three of the albums songs, contributes banjo, guitar, and mandolin parts. Fats Kaplan usually adds tasty fills with his fiddle, but he switches to a beautifully subtle accordion part on Wonder, and picks up an electric guitar and rocks out on I Live in Fear. It would be easy to miss the drums, except on I Live in Fear. Usually, Lucas Kane adds just a whisper of a bass thump to the songs here; the effect is an almost subliminal heartbeat. There is no conventional rhythm section on these songs, and no bass player. The songs range from ballads to ragtime influenced up tempo numbers, and the subtle shifts in texture make Late Edition a richly varied listen. I’m using the word subtle a lot here; it is the hallmark of these songs.
The musical arrangements place an emphasis on the words. Francey grew up in Scotland, leaving for Canada when he was 12, and the accent is very much there, but his words are clear. Francey’s lyrics set moods and feelings, but they don’t tell stories. Instead, these are beautifully sketched slices of life, and they rely on both the music and the listener’s imagination to fill in the details. Pretty Jackals is clearly concerned with the Crucifiction, but you have to get to the last verse to see what Francey has done here. Then you realize that he has imagined how the Crucifiction would be reported today on the TV news. Wonder and Grateful are powerful evocations of love, from two different angles. Solitary Wave and Borderlands are mood pieces based on contemplations of the natural world, and in each case, I can see the scene in my head as I listen. And Blue Heart of Texas is a song that snuck up on me. When I started working on this review, I did not think that I would be posting Blue Heart. But its depiction of the loneliness and yearning of a musician on the road won me over. I should mention that the song as written does not have to be about a musician at all, but that is where it takes me when I listen.
As I said earlier, the listener winds up filling in the details of these songs, so your experience of this album may be different than mine. But I can promise you that these songs will take you somewhere, and that the trip will be well worth it.
David Francey: Pretty Jackals
David Francey: Blue Heart of Texas