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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/4/2013)
Computers and digital technology have have a more profound effect on music than almost anything in the last couple of hundred years -- even more, I would argue, than the electric guitar. The Internet, of course, has completely changed the way people get their music. And computers have fundamentally altered the way music is made, from replacing the paradigm of the multitrack tape machine to the use of digital signal processing that has given us a plethora of commercial pop music that can sound utterly artificial and given us a herd of pop stars who could probably could not in real life sing on key if their lives depended upon it. Of course, on the other hand,, there are those who are able to use the technology in creative and yet musically valid ways.
This week we have a new CD by a guy who has a reputation as a computer technology specialist in programming, consulting and the like, and has made a CD that is perhaps the opposite of what one would expect -- a soulful, groove-oriented record made by real people playing conventional instruments. It's by guitarist Carl Franklin and it's his debut album under his own name, called Been a While.
Carl Franklin is from New London, Connecticut, and started on music early, taking five years of piano lessons starting at age 5. Then he discovered the guitar and began studying finger-style acoustic guitar, and was specializing in that by his early 20s. But he also gravitated toward electric guitar, at first being influenced by rockers like Joe Walsh and Brian May of Queen. But then he was snared by the fusion and jazz sounds from the likes of Larry Carlton on Steely Dan records, and was eventually drawn into more straight-ahead jazz, though as a player, he still specialized in the more blues-oriented styles.
After high school in the mid 1980s, Franklin attended the Berklee College of Music for a while, but then was attracted to the recording and production, pursuing that direction. In the process of learning computer-based music production, he got whole-heartedly into the computer side of things, and more or less put his music aside to work full-time on computer programming, software development, consulting and the like. But he combined both aspects when he and his brother opened an all digital computer-based recording studio.
But Carl Franklin and his brother Jay, who plays keyboards, did maintain an occasional band and released a CD as the Franklin Brothers a while ago called Lifeboat to Nowhere. Now although Jay appears, Been a While is listed as being a Carl Franklin album. The title no doubt derives from the fact that this recording was started about four years ago in 2009.
Carl Franklin writes in the CD notes that he found himself with a week off without much in the way of responsibilities, and decided to hire a bunch of musician friends from his home town area to work on a set of tunes he had recently written and arranged. He writes that he tried to interfere as little as possible with the players, just letting them improvise parts with the emphasis on the groove.
What is quickly apparent is the residual Steely Dan influence from the harmonically complex tunes, to the horn arrangements, to the tight rhythms and the extra clean sound. They pull it off well, with enough originality keep it from just being a Dan knockoff. These recordings were made available on-line piecemeal, but the album finally came together as a real full-length project when jazz and fusion guitar great John Scofield sat in earlier this year and became a part of one additional track.
While most of the CD consists of original tunes, there are three interesting covers from very different places -- the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, and an old folk song.
The CD opens with one tune on which Carl Franklin plays most of the instruments except for the horns. Waiting for the Summer to Come achieves the strong groove that Franklin set out for. The Steely Dan influence is also apparent. <<>>
With a more conventional band is one of the more clever tracks on the CD, a version of the Beatles' Drive My Car. The funky groove gives the song a new spin. <<>>
The track featuring jazz guitarist John Scofield is called Chain Reaction. The piece starts with the funky groove that drives most of the album. <<>> But there's an atmospheric jazzy section on which Scofield is heard on guitar with trumpet player Doug Woolverton. <<>>
Another strong track is called Boogie Groove which is a reference to the story in the lyrics, and not so much a description of the rhythmic approach of the song. <<>>
The old folk song that Franklin includes is The Titanic, which is credited to folklorist Alan Lomax. Franklin and company give it an almost New Orleans style groove, with Al LaPorte on acoustic piano. <<>>
There is one instrumental on the album, piece called Time Bomb, which a bit edgier than most of the CD, and is more like a fusion tune. <<>>
The closest thing to a slow ballad on Been a While is a Louis Armstrong tune called Butter and Egg Man. The material is not as good a fit for Franklin and his added musicians, though Doug Woolverton's trumpet is there to hint at what Armstrong would have played. <<>>
The CD ends with Out of Your Way one of the better original songs on the album, whose influences are a nice mix. <<>>
Been a While the new CD by Carl Franklin, known for his work with the Franklin Brothers band and also for his non-musical work in the computer world, is a thoroughly worthwhile recording that features fine playing, very good material, and a healthy dose of the influence of Steely Dan. For many, that latter quality may well be enough to land this recording on many people's want-lists. But there's enough originality that it does not turn into a kind of tribute album, and there's enough variety to keep it interesting.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an "A." Franklin also took his cue from Steely Dan for the commendable sonic clarity overall and the crisp drum sound. It's about the opposite of you would expect from a tech-driven guy like Franklin. What technology he used is rather transparent, and a far cry from the phoniness, grungy or muddy sound that characterizes so many CDs these days. Been A While was recorded over a period of four years at different times, but it has a nice coherent sound, both musically and sonically.
Carl Franklin says that though he eventually gravitated to jazz and fusion guitar, he does not describe himself as a fusion player. But he is a versatile artist who brings in some fusion, rock, soul and blues in a nice mixture that makes for very good listening.
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