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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Off-Handed Cool of Michael Franks

Back in the '70s when I was first getting into jazz, it was great to discover the Reprise debut of the singer and songwriter Michael Franks. The Art of Tea was hip and swinging and funny, which is to say that a bunch of the songs were sly winks full of clever wordplay. They were sexy but smart. Franks, as a singer, was subtle and barely there, but he was backed by a collection of cool musicians drawn mostly from the band the Jazz Crusaders. "Popsicle Toes" and "Eggplant" and "Sometime I Forget to Smile" were cookin' little swingers that I wished I was cool enough to sing myself.

Over time, Franks demonstrated that he was also heavily influenced by Antonio Carlos Jobim—he was a great writer and singer of sophisticated bossa novas, and his ballads were great too. But as the albums tumbled onward toward the 1980s, the mushy side of Franks emerged as well. He preceded but was, essentially, pre-made for the "smooth jazz" sound, and I stopped paying attention to him at some point in the next decade.

Now he is back with a new record, Time Together (read my review HERE), and it surely reminds of what I always loved about Franks. So I made a more complete profile of him into this month's column, JAZZ TODAY: The Off-Handed Cool of Michael Franks, clickable here.

In any case, looking back, I think it's fair to say that Franks has always been an amazing songwriter and—in fact—a fine jazz singer.  That he got gooped up in all that smooth jazz cotton candy doesn't change the fact that his songs are beautiful and well-written.  And maybe, with the smoove jazz haze finally parting these days, he's back to being cool again?

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