Michael Franks – The Music In My Head
(Shanachie. CD review by Peter Bacon)
Far too frequently these days I seem to be targeted with emails, pamphlets through the letterbox, inserts that fall out of the Sundays, even mailshots addressed to me personally, all containing variations on the same generic photograph. I’m sure if you are aged over 60 you have seen them, too. A handsome, lustrously grey-haired man in designer frames and casual wear (boat shoes almost guaranteed, sweater slung around shoulders) has his arm round a similarly handsome, even more lustrously grey-haired woman in neutrally-shaded linen dress. They smile at a distant horizon, calm aquamarine sea stretching to matching sky, perhaps the chrome and fibreglass prow of a yacht in the background, the marina’s quayside litter-free beside it… The overtype will likely include the words “security”, “investment”, “retirement village”, “luxury timeshare” with perhaps some variation on the phrase “it’s never too late to live that dream”.
If I turn from the imaginary balcony in my imaginary penthouse and turn up the imaginary volume control on my imaginary high-end hi-fi, the sound that comes out is Michael Franks. How could it be any other way?
The Music In My Head is the Californian-born singer/songwriter’s 18th album, and sounds, despite the 42-year interim, pretty close to Franks’ first hit album (the second he recorded), The Art Of Tea. It’s all here: the simply put, perfectly natural sentences, uttered in a gentle, matter-of-fact conversational style, a sort of speak-singing, as if the mood is too relaxed, the breeze too balmy, the sun too warm to go to the effort of really stretching those vocal cords; the rhythms are variations on bossa nova, the piano given the soft pedal, the guitar solo honeyed in both tone and phrasing, the saxophone tastefully sensual, the signature sound is the cabasa. The concept was completely conceived and perfectly executed way back then – so why spoil it with change?
I’m happy to confess to a fondness for Michael Franks as one of my two guilty secrets (the other is an even stronger passion for Luther Vandross). Yes, I know how they both skirt with cheesiness, and both are likely to be scorned by the vast majority of my tougher-eared jazz-fan friends. I’m even prepared to be scornful too for the first few bars of an album – and then they seduce me anew.
The Music In My Head contains 10 meticulously-crafted new pieces of classic Franks, with contributions from guitarist Chuck Loeb (who, sadly, died before he could participate more fully), bassist Jimmy Haslip, saxophonists Eric Marienthal, Gary Meek and Bob Mintzer, guitarist David Spinozza and producer/arranger Gil Goldstein. His voice has perhaps a little more character these days but he’s kept it, clearly, in unstressed good shape.
We can only see him from the back on the album cover, but I’m sure if he turned around he’d look very much like that handsome, luxuriantly grey-haired, designer-spectacled, comfortably well-off pensioner in the adverts.
Categories: CD review
Excellent review, Peter.
I think the main confusing issue for some in terms of a barrier to enjoyment (full disclosure I love this record especially Bebop Headshop but actually all the tracks are very very good) and it is something worth grappling with.
That is that some might foolishly see this kind of thing as smooth jazz (Quiet Storm to me is a term that has slipped out of ye olde jaaaaeeezzz jaaarrrrgggon, but really the two terms have become for working purposes synonymous). To me 'smooth jazz' is utter rubbish (case in point the much anticipated Summer Horns by Dave Koz and Friends with only a few exceptions, eg Nick Webb era Acoustic Alchemy bits of Lee Ritenour, Grusin, Bob James). People put da smooth on quietly for a laugh and even book the monsters of groove for the best jazz clubs. Of course it is proxy lifestyle, callcentre samba at its worst, a gigantic festival built on fermentation that Alex James might well mount in a tent on his 200-acre cheese farm although people might well be more interested in the cheese. And rightly so. However we have to live still, understand it, study smooth jazz and embrace its very foibles. When Steve Quirk bestrode the planet, a king of smooth in his Jazz FM minidisc era jockey robes now to be heard splendidly on the Rockall that is Colourful radio http://www.colourfulradio.com/presenter/stevequirk%5D smooth had higher profile.
Michael Franks is a great singer whatever genre you want to put him in. But don't call him smooth, pretty please avant jazz fans. And remember avant jazz is only a style like every other. It has its own cliches too.
When an album from SOJG comes along I pause with trepidation and a sense of almost spiritual reverence. Will I become 'unglued' (again) having waited for so long and to just be eternally grateful that there is another opportunity to join MF in his soundscape of life. Having had his music in my head since my early 20's, I feel blessed to have another 10 glorious moments to share��������
The first time I heard Mr Franks I was a mere 18 years old in 81 I had already missed perhaps 2 of his albums and was introduced to passion fruit never had I been captivated by such a beautiful melody of songs rhythm and words of music that made you think you were in a tropical place but actually riding on a city bus on the way from a hard day's work.Hands down he is my 1/1A jazz artist thank you Michael Frank's for all the great Music and memories.