“Rain” is the first new studio album in five years from the FRAN MCGILLIVRAY BAND.
This has been time spent absorbing the nuances & spices of their travels and incorporating those elements into their creative work, such as the visceral guitar sounds and instinctive rhythms of ”Havana Blues” and “Driving in the Rain”, or the neon-lit metroplex beats of “Toronto Nights”.
Fran is the bassist and lead vocalist (plus flute and keys) of the trio, and her colourful and expressive voice adds energizing structure to any blues, jazz, or roots melody. Fran plays alongside the exceptional talent of Mike Burke (guitars, mandola, vocals) and Roger Nunn (drums, percussion, vocals). Fran, Mike and Roger have spent many years polishing and texturing their luxurious sounds and perfecting their strikingly naturalistic stage performances.
There are other expressionistic touches on the new album, for instance, within the crafting of their reggae-tinctured “Come Up Smiling” and the contemplative composure of “Heaven or Hell”. There are, of course, declarative notions on the ongoing global pandemic: “I Play by the Rules”, “I Want to Hear You Sing” and “Dressed to Kill”. And the songwriters (all these songs are by McGillivray / Burke, with Nunn also credited on “The Struggle”) broach the double-barrelled threats to our civilization — climate change and corporate greed — in new songs “The Flood” and “The Struggle”.
The opening track “The Flood” is an undulating and ever-deepening listen that seems plagued with regrets and omens. Fran’s voice has an earthy feel and is rich in sensory layers. The softly radiant guitar offers the dispersion of hope in what would otherwise be a song of trembling premonition. The message here is clear: the river is coming… and it will sweep us away with a mighty roar!
Lightening the mood somewhat, “Come Up Smiling” has a cheerful tone and a straightforward, upbeat message. Fran’s voice is accomplished, perceptive, and primed, as if she comes equipped with a sharp-bladed knife but hides it out of sight, under a warm blanket. This reminds us of the output of late 1980s Edie Brickell & New Bohemians.
The jazzy-blues masterpiece “Havana Blues” — with its tropical rhythms and steamy sway — has a sultry feel, but also retains a bittersweet fragility that seems based on the loss, departure and surrender of the moment. Fran’s voice on this number is a mix of caramel-sugar rum & pineapple tang. A heady cocktail!
This is sassy without being vixenish and creamy without being licentious…
A similar hand-scraped ratchet sound is presented on the elegantly expressive “Driving in the Rain” The beguiling and breathy vocal is as meditative as the percussive precipitation is perpetual. This is sassy without being vixenish and creamy without being licentious. It imparts a “come find me” predisposition, with the fragility of “never quite knowing” whether he/she actually will! This is captivating, and the style reminds us of something you would have found on the Diamond Life album by Sade Adu.
“Heaven or Hell” has a luscious resonating motif and fragrant guitar notes. Here, the carbonated accompaniments provide translucency and dimensionality but, of course, the focus will again be on that remarkable voice of double-cream, sweet almond, and lemon zest. Superlative!
Throughout this magnificent album, Fran’s smoky, sensual and truly luminous voice reaches into the personal and emotional substance of each song. And her bluesy soulfulness is always impeccably escorted by Mike & Roger’s exquisite timbre, panache and heartbeat. This is a wonderfully honed and thoroughly honest achievement.
File alongside: Elkie Brooks & Vinegar Joe, So Long Angel
Words: @neilmach 2021 ©
“Rain” is available from www.franmike.com