Michael Fracasso

Back to Oklahoma: Live at the Blue Door

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Of all the records Michael Fracasso has ever released, this live outing is his finest moment. Fracasso came to the tiny Blue Door stage to deliver his songs to a packed house in Oklahoma City armed only with his guitar, harmonica, and Bob Dylan's guitarist, Charlie Sexton, who helped on the backing vocals. Given the depth and dimension of Fracasso's songs, whose characters are broken and brave-hearted ordinary people, it's amazing that this setting can contain them. But then, it's a wonder that any setting can contain them; perhaps naked and unadorned is the only way they can be heard and experienced in all their power and ragged glory. Yeah, a lot of songwriters get high marks from the margins and make a decent living at what they do. They people their songs with marginal outsiders faltering in the light of day or traveling under the cover of brokenness and rage. Fracasso's songs -- such as "Nervous Mind," "Gypsy Moth," "Brazos River Blues," "Wise Blood," "1950," and "Save Her Love" -- are from the heart of the heart of the country, even if they were written in Austin and he's barely making it. That tells you something about the culture, not him. The protagonists in Fracasso's songs bear the weight of history and its revisionism and still celebrate the American spirit, not as some jingoistic misinterpretation of the dream, but as the struggle of trying to find meaning in each workday moment, in each encounter, in each disappointment. In short, Fracasso's songs are full of a deep, almost spiritual gratitude for being alive and being able to remember, and the longing to discover what is hidden from view. On Back to Oklahoma, Fracasso takes his time; he delves deep into the blues and folk traditions that have informed his music and lets it go -- all of it -- lets it fall from the heart to heart as word, tear, moan, wail, and whisper. And, as Sexton's empathetic, understated blues riffing and turnarounds reveal, the grain in Fracasso's voice communicated all of this outside himself to whoever was in that room and now comes through the other end of the CD player. There are a few covers on the disc as well, offering the depth of Fracasso's populism (and winsome love song genius); "Winin' Boy Blues," "John Hardy," and "Dirty Old Town" are delivered with the weight of their forebears, the decades of interpretations and permutations that have permitted these songs to survive and evolve to embrace every generation of American culture. He takes these as a sacred trust, to deliver them with grace, resilience, and every ounce of honesty he can muster; he believes that they are not relics, but living, breathing tomes that inform and reveal. And as if the songs weren't testimony in and of themselves, the custom cover painting is by Woody Guthrie's sister, Mary Jo Guthrie Edgman. Don't look for Fracasso to try and pick up some American songman pedigree, though, he's too busy writing and singing songs. Back to Oklahoma is a contender for best singer/songwriter album of 2001, and it should win every poll if there's any justice at all. No matter though, this disc will endure and people will be discovering it for decades to come.

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