october 2008

frankGulf Coast Blue
Denice Franke
Certain Records

A husband's suicide following a son's drowning is recalled in language so clinical it's chilling, a woman trying to maintain a safe distance from the horror while pleading in a tremulous voice for a moment of clarity ("shine some light/shine some light over here...") over a dark, relentless rhythm and a wailing guitar. That's "Gibraltar," our introduction to Denice Franke on her stirring third album, Gulf Coast Blue. Inspired by the current of life and characters in her native Galveston, TX, Gulf Coast Blue is as unerring in its sense of place as it is colorful and piercing in its depictions of the forces tugging at people making their way across landscapes measured both in literal and metaphysical miles. Singing in a husky, smoky voice that has some of the color of Joni Mitchell's and a lot of the sultriness of Bobbie Gentry's, Franke brings her original songs to vivid life with the help of producer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Hallman; together they sculpt intriguing sonic backdrops for the artist's taut tales following a less-is-more pattern of employing a few well-chosen instruments to add compelling textures to what are essentially short stories disguised as folk and blues ballads.

Ever wonder what a lineman sees from his lofty perch? Check out the informal surveillance documented in "Sergio's Watching," and you'll be anxious for the wireless world to be upon us so you can primp, romance and/or shoot up in the privacy of your home. Into a deliberate, pulsing acoustic ambiance, Bob Meyer injects haunting trumpet lines, showing up just enough to heighten the paranoia Franke's dramatic vocal suggests. Similarly, Hallman's use of rebana and Hopi shakers in "Seminole Girl" summons the unquenchable spirit of the women chronicled in the narrative, raising children alone without apology or self-pity, refusing to lean on dissolute men, making a life against great odds, prompting Franke to observe, "There's a lot to say about a woman who's strong/she takes charge/she needs no man to appraise her." In the less is considerably more category, the tender, striking love song, "Elegance (For Grace)," is all quiet beauty, Franke deeply immersed in her all-consuming love for another woman, not merely wanting to be with her but to become part of her very being ("oh to be the nylons you stretch across your legs/to be the Spanish heels that raise you off the floor/to be the laughing motion/when you break into dance..."). Rather than heated, these longings burn discreetly beneath a cool surface, with Franke's sensitive vocal framed only by her gently strummed acoustic guitar and Hallman's subtle fingerpicking of a nylon string guitar. No matter how thick the Gulf air in Galveston, it can't hide stories like these from knowing observers such as Denice Franke. Her surname is entirely appropriate, because she pulls no punches in documenting the sordid and celebrating the exalted she's found on her home turf. Galveston. Who knew?—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024