Tom Frager / Tom Frager & Gwayav' / Gwayav'

Better Days

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Tom Frager broke through to mainstream success in autumn 2009 with "Lady Melody," a melodic ballad that topped the French singles chart for four weeks straight. Prior to the breakthrough success of "Lady Melody," Frager was better known as a professional surfer than as a singer/songwriter. He made his full-length debut in 2006 with Bloom Inside, an independently released album billed to his band, Gwayav', rather than himself that went little heard. Better Days, his second album, also went little heard upon its initial release in 2008. Originally released as a ten-track album, Better Days is a mix of French- and English-language songs penned by Frager that are reggae-inflected to varying degrees. While the ear-pleasing melodies of "Lady Melody" glide along a lilting reggae rhythm and are accentuated by easy listening touches of piano and saxophone, other songs -- such as the title track -- are straight-up reggae from both a vocal and musical standpoint. In some ways, the success of Frager is similar to that of Christophe Maé, another French celebrity turned singer/songwriter who broke through to chart-topping success with a reggae-inflected style. Both are white Frenchmen inspired by Africa and its music (indeed, Frager is African-born), and both play acoustic guitar with the backing of a full band, backup vocalists and all. There's clearly a market for this style of reggae-inflected singer/songwriter music in France, and Universal Music was keen to pick up Better Days for major-label re-release in 2009, adding five bonus tracks and pushing "Lady Melody" as a breakout single. The 15-track major-label edition of Better Days improves upon the ten-track original edition. For one, it adds the album-opening song "Give Me That Love," the English-language follow-up single to "Lady Melody," and it also adds duets with Tom Curren, Lovy Jam, Ben Mazué, and Lee Ann Curren. Interspersed throughout the album sequencing, these duets in particular help diversify Better Days, which in its original edition plays a bit too repetitively, with English-language songs following the French ones and the melodic ballads offset by rootsy reggae numbers. While fans of "Lady Melody" should find plenty to enjoy elsewhere on Better Days, the album would have been better if Frager had sung entirely in French rather than English. For whatever reason, the majority of Better Days is sung in English, and while Frager has a fairly firm grasp of the language, there's no question that his songs are better sung in French ("Lady Melody," for instance).

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