Michael Franks – The Music In My Head (2018)

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A giant of Quiet Storm music since years before that label was coined, Michael Franks is still quietly going about his business. The Music In My Head (June 8 2018, Shanachie Entertainment) is his eighteenth long player over forty-five years, coming a leisurely seven years after his last one.

Franks really doesn’t need to make new music apart from just the personal enjoyment of doing it; old farts like myself would be forever content to cue up Art of Tea on the turntable and come see him perform strictly fan favorites and hits from the 70’s and 80’s. But while he might record at the same languid pace that much of his music inspires in others, he’s never quit creating new music and new sides. That inner flame still burns and that smoky, breathy voice is exactly the same as it’s always been.

A spiritual heir to the late Mose Allison but with less blues and more Brazil (though Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee once did record a few of his songs), Franks is part of a dying breed of singers who can still convincingly make the case for jazz as popular music, and do it with thoughtful, grown-up songs from his own pen.

In going back to read my 2011 review of Time Together, at least ninety percent of what’s said about that last release could aptly describe The Music In My Head. That goes right down to Franks’ use of five different producers, with Gil Goldstein, Scott Petito and Jimmy Haslip responsible for all but two of the ten tracks. Such a strategy could be perilous and result in an uneven product but thankfully, every one of these producers were very much attuned to that classic Michael Franks sound and showed great respect for it. Even with his usual collection of star musicians and producers involved in this project, there is no question who is the mastermind.

His songs reach out to listeners on a personal level and like Time Together, the clean and uncluttered way they’re arranged and recorded only makes it easier to feel that direct connection. In keeping with his Brazil fascination, several of these songs are played with soft, bossa nova rhythms, like “Suddenly Sci-Fi.” That song has such a silky texture, you might not even notice it’s all acoustic save for David’s Spinozza’s tasty-as-frick guitar, the perfect accompaniment to Franks’ cooing out his signature impishly clever lines (“It seemed to say in Phillip K. Dick-tation/It’s now a sci-fi nation”). Spinozza, who first appeared on a Franks album way back in 1980(!), traces Franks’ scatting on the sly number “The Idea Of A Tree” and further makes his mark on three other tracks. “To Spend The Day With You” is another breezy bossa nova groove and this time it’s showcase for pianist Rachel Z.

Franks’ tender ballad “Bluebird Blue” is one of the best testimonies that this is the same guys who wooed fans back in the day with classic ballads like “Lady Wants to Know” and “Tiger In The Rain,” as Goldstein gives the song the same light production touch that Tommy LiPuma did for Franks’ recordings some four decades earlier. Memories of Franks’ jazz awakening during his time in college come to swinging life on the all-acoustic “Bebop Headshop.”

“The Music In My Head” is also autobiographical, a song about how the sounds of nature serve as his muse. The title track has the most contemporary vibe of this grouping of songs, with a sophisticated bridge and Franks effortlessly trading phrases with Bob Mintzer’s sax. The tender, sensual “Candleglow” is notable for a melodic exchange between Haslip and saxophonist Gary Meek, and “Waterfall” takes the album to a willowy landing with a big assist from Goldstein’s balletic piano.

Lastly, there’s the song that appears first. “As Long As We’re Both Together” (stream above) is the only one with Chuck Loeb’s involvement: he produced, arranged and played guitar and keys on it. But Loeb was a very sick man at the time he left behind the polished backing track that featured for a final time some very graceful guitar that he was known for. Soon afterwards, cancer had claimed his life.

In the end, that great loss didn’t dissuade Michael Franks from presenting the world the music in his head. The Music In My Head continues his forty-five year tradition of delivering comfort music with intellect, wit and grace.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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