This is a truly superb album. It's like everyone I've ever heard, yet it's like no-one I've ever heard. The songs are a complete cross-section of styles and influences ranging from fun-filled up-tempo numbers to serious ballads, with some blues and jazz influences thrown in for good measure. It is a very competent and polished effort from start to finish.
For some reason that I can't explain, I had never heard of, or heard, Bob Franke. I'm pleased to report that it has been an extremely pleasurable experience. I'm also pleased to discover that this is his sixth album, so I have 5 more to listen to!
This is his first album since 1991, and features 11 of his own compositions. He has assembled an extremely accomplished set of backing musicians, including Nina Gerber on guitar, previously known to me for her work with Kate Wolfe.
The opening track, "Eye Of A Serpent", opens with a driving bass line and swirling Hammond organ. It immediately hooks the listener, and says such things as "there's lots more good stuff to come."
Listening to the pronunciation of some of the words in "I Arose To Her Beauty", such as "dirty" you might think that it was being sung by someone from Scotland or Ireland. Add to that some very nice penny whistle playing, and that picture is complete. If the listener did not know that this was Bob Franke, they might think it was Eric Bogle in one of his more serious and sensitive moments.
"Hard Love" is an old song, previously recorded live by Franke. It has also been recorded by others and is now given the studio treatment. It tells of childhood and other memories re-kindled by a failed love affair.
"Helicopter Simulator" is in a 12 bar blues idiom, with very tasteful piano from Larry Ludecke. Part way through, there are some guitar phrases lifted from the Guitar Man, Duane Eddy. I think this is my favourite track. It tells of the experiences with a flight simulator, as an escape from reality. I guess we've all been there at some time and in some way.
"Waiting For Nineveh to Burn" is about escaping from an inevitable fate, based on the story of Jonah and the whale. There's a moral here for those who might be tempted to give up hope.
"Krystallnacht Is Coming" is a very moving tale of the passing in California of Proposition 187, drawing a parallel with the plight of the Jews in 1938, when they were made to feel unwelcome in parts of Europe. It deals with persecution in a civilized society in a very sensitive way.
"Turn Back, Oh Man" is a great duet sung with Noel Stuckey, which features a heavy gospel influence, and was apparently written at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Some wonderful alto saxophone playing from Billy Novick adds to an already great song.
"The Silence of Parting" is about the passing down of songs from generation to generation, and is a beautiful song with some lovely acoustic guitar work.
"Trouble In This World (It'll Be All Right)" closes this terrific album, leaving us with a feeling of hope and optimism. Nice backing vocals.
I too have a great feeling of hope and optimism as I go in search of Bob Franke's previous offerings, hoping I can still find them in the stores. Maybe "Waiting For Nineveh To Burn" should give me hope that I will find them!
© 1996 by Three Rivers Folklife Society. This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.