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Michael Franks: Barefoot On The Beach

"Abandoned Garden" is the latest installment in the lyrical legacy of Michael Franks. A genius of verse, Michael mixes romantic overtones with beautifully chosen words that paint a picture of love and introspection. For over 20 years now, Michael has been writing enchanting jazz music for those of us that ask to be whisked away to some imaginative island named Somewhere Else. How he comes up with some of the things he says in his music, along with the way the story is told, is delightful.

In a Warner Brothers critique, the reviewer is quoted as saying:

"His vocal stylings are highly original treasures - a mixture of love, life and nature; death and renewal. "Abandoned Garden" is one of the most languidly beautiful albums to come out in years"

Michael Franks makes no qualms about letting his audiences know exactly where he is coming from. He has always let us join in on the phase of life he may be going through at any given place in time. Happy, sad, erotic, or neurotic, Michael just keeps the vibes flowing.

On the first melody, Michael makes the statement that everyone must say to themselves when hit with the first pangs of love, "This Must Be Paradise". As with all of Michael's tunes, he shows us his ‘artistic’ side. By such, I mean that Michael is an art aficionado. Reflecting his longstanding interest in the French Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, Michael waxes eloquently of how the earth appears during a summertime sunset. What does that have to do with love? Leave it to Michael Franks for a complete and thoroughly thought provoking explanation.

Speaking of eloquent waxing, the second song on the CD entitled "Like Water, Like Wind" is all about remembrances. This is definitely not the first time Michael uses this nuance of neurology and each time he does, it becomes more and more relevant to the listener that Michael can relate. Michael’s style of music is such that allows the participants of his melodious voyages an opportunity to put themselves in the space of ‘been there, done that’. Just as country music, (of which I claim to be no expert), Michael beckons the listener to identify. His love for and often-used theme of the Brazilian ambiance is also evident here. Seldom do we find Michael not tying a background pallet of South American rainforests or Brazilian urbanology up in his lyrical messages.

On cut three, Michael lets us in on his vulnerable side. "Fool's Errand" is for the fools for love in all of us. How many times can we say we’ve followed that proverbial carrot straight to the point of being humiliated for our foolish convictions. As Michael puts it “All agree how brilliantly I played the fool”. Haven’t we all. This cut has a 40’s kind of riff to it that flows like lies from a lawyer. His use of the dictionary to describe how love’s terminology changes over time is ingenious. Michael will never change.

On "Hourglass", Michael speaks of the female figure. (Go figure) Here is Michael at his best. Provocatively intertwining voice with verse, he swings from sonnet to sonnet in a way that DOES emulate the flow from hip to halter. The above mentioned ‘sylinote’ style used by Franks can best be heard in the way he vocalizes the word “existentially”. Using six notes for the word, Michael is the only artist I’ve heard that does this. IT IS Michael Franks. Reminiscent of old, “Hour Glass” will stand the test of time.

To help Michael turn out such a fine album, he enlists the help of Bob James, Art farmer, Andy Snitzer, David Sanborn and the Yellowjackets. On three of the tracks, about the fruitful alliance with Russell Ferrante of the ‘Jackets’:

"I really wasn’t able to articulate what I wanted very clearly I’m afraid." says Michael. “But Russell got it just right.”

Just right is the 5th cut on our CD, "Cinema". Michael speaks of a woman who has lost hope for love and goes about her daily routine of loneliness and despair. As often happens, love appears for her when she least expects it. After the encounter, all is well with the world. This song allows us to travel back to a time when things were less hectic and the worries of society were different. The 30's-40's style lullaby has a small smoked filled, blue lit room kind of feel to it recalling days gone by when zoot suits and floppy apple hats were all the rage. "Cigars, Cigarettes?"

Tracks 6 and 7 contiune this theme of fruitful love. "Eighteen Aprils" is a quiet tribute to the nature of springtime love. Michael paints pictures of Swallowtails, Robin’s eggs and Bluebird’s reconnaissance. All of these images he rolls up in a package of how love endures over the years. I hope to one-day experience the type of intimacy Michael speaks of. I really like how Michael recalls ungathering clouds and lets the sunshine through on this one. This is a song to experience, not just listen to. I also wonder if it is also a tribute his wife whom he met “eighteen Aprils ago”.

“Somehow Our Love Survives” is a vibrant and quite sassy homage to how romantic love can survive the test of time under adverse situations. Michael’s carol of the unforeseen and Godforsaken and how these circumstances of life can act as the glue to hold together a loving relationship is uplifting. This, along with the shift in tempo of the CD, makes for a good midpoint of the album

Track 9, In the Yellow House, goes back to Michael’s passion for the arts. It is an outtake from the musical “Noa, Noa”. A discourse between Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Goah, the conversation is a reflection on the life the two lives in the yellow house. The painting done by Vincent is displayed here. As the story progresses, the two try to consul each other and ends with Vincent’s admission of his propensity for suicide. If you follow the arts, this song is a close proximity of the actual lives of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Goah and does the artist’s existence justice.

Love and tragedy always seem to make strange and frequent bedfellows. The last song on the album Abandoned Gardenis dedicated to the death and life of Michael’s long time mentor and very close friend, Antonio Carlos Jobim. From Warner Brothers:

"I was an undergraduate at UCLA when his music first became popular in this country," Michael recalls. "I kinda learned to play the guitar with his tunes. On some of the first gigs I ever played, I would learn his music and sing is songs his small clubs wherever I could".

Michael put off all his other projects to focus on the legacy of Jobim.
"Just listening to his music put me in a creative space. It got me back into the right side of my brain and I just wanted to stay there as long as I could", reflects Michael. "When he died, I went back and listened to all his material".
That fact is greatly substantiated for it is my opinion, that this is the best tune on the album. The influence of Jobim comes through loud and clear. It’s as if he never left. Listening to Michael sing this song, you can almost feel his pain. Isn’t that what art is all about, transferring feelings and emotions over a medium of time and space? I, along with Michael dedicate this CD and its review to “the lost Antonio”.

If you love smooth, sultry balladry, with a touch of folk and 40’s style jazz, I urge you to purchase Abandoned Garden. Once you do you’ll never feel alone.  

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