Michael Franks

Barefoot on the Beach

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Countless musical trends have steamrolled by since this wry singer songwriter with the cool and collected, wistful onionskin voice first graced the adult music world in the mid-'70s with The Art of Tea and its cryptic hit, "Popsicle Toes." Yet Franks has stood his ground, growing as an observational lyricist while his relaxed demeanor stays pretty much the same, and charmingly so.

While varying his backing instrumental tracks to fall somewhere between classic, subtle brassy Steely Dan ("The Fountain of Youth" features Yellowjacket saxman Bob Mintzer kicking it up with trumpeter Larry Lunetta) and colorful smooth jazz vibes (Bob James, Dave Samuels, and Chuck Loeb crackle behind the bemused frustration story "Double Talk"), the joy of his writing approach is found in his song structure. Franks just doesn't buy into the Top 40 school of "hook or forget it" songwriting. He's more interested in weaving quirky, even esoteric images over solid grooves. "You could jump a DC-8 and probably be here by eight" sets the tone for the frolic of the title track. Everything is fair game from references to Ingrid Bergman and Rhett Butler looks on "Heart Like an Open Book" to congratulating Ponce De Leon for the youthful drive of his lover on "The Fountain of Youth." He's quite the humorist, too, telling a cheating mate on "Double Talk" that "each time you lie your profile grows/it looks just like Pinocchio's." "Mr. Smooth" is a crisp commentary on a stuck-up man who thinks he's a god somehow. So that even when Franks is expressing displeasure, his heart is light. He covers all the aspects of love from the supreme joy of "Now Love Has No End" to "Why Spring Ain't here" but the minute he starts to boil over, he's back to the beach, having a blast. It's the kind of spring in your step music Franks fashioned his career out of.

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