Artist: Michael Fracasso
Album: Here Come the Savages
Label: Blue Door
Release Date: 06/10/2016
Michael Fracasso is both restless and unpredictable. No two of his albums will ever sound the same. I remember seeing him at a house concert several years ago when he played the first set, like a folkie, with his acoustic guitar and then played the entire second set at the piano, regaling us with a few originals, many Beatles covers, and crooning pop tunes. When he wants to, he can be a blues guy too. Check out Back to Oklahoma with Charlie Sexton.
Fracasso’s spirit of adventure is clearly evident on this release. Originally, he was going to make two albums, one of originals and one of covers, but his manager suggested they take the best of both and combine them into this one effort that involves three producers, Fracasso, Jim Lewis, and drummer Mark Patterson. Lewis was at the helm for Saint Monday, his previous release which many call the best of his career. They continue in some of those rock and pop directions here on the cover tunes. Patterson has his hand on the six originals. For his part, Fracasso says, “My end of the production was the weirdness. I love experimenting. So, some of it was a little psychedelic in a very mild way. But nonetheless, not your traditional folk record.”
Fracasso’s voice is a unique and unforgettable instrument that walks the line between tenor and falsetto, enabling him to cover so many styles. The title track for example references Davy Jones, the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” and Them’s “Here Comes the Night.” He takes the Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No” into some melancholy territory until it’s bolstered by BettySoo’s backing harmonies. Willie Cobb’s blues staple, “You Don’t Love Me,” is barely recognizable. He slows down the Rascals “How Can I Be Sure’’ with a staccato beat, adding some psychedelia and two female backing harmonies for a glorious take on the AM hit. Fracasso plays mostly piano, some guitar, and some synthesizer depending on the tune, very few, if any that have the same instrumentation. A French horn is added for “Boy in the Bubble.” Pedal steel, violin, banjo, and organ color particular tunes too.
If there’s a theme that holds these disparate elements together, it’s the pain of a breakup which Fracasso experienced while making the record. This is best epitomized by the second track, “Open,” which has a double meaning. He could only play in open tuning after breaking his hand in a car accident a couple of years ago. Fracasso elaborates, “ It was almost a little bit tongue in cheek. Like a meta song in a way. But the song takes on a very significant part of my life, my relationship was falling apart. It wasn’t over, but I understood how it was going to go before it went. Like I saw the future. Oftentimes, I will project myself into the future and then write a song. It also was hopeful. It embodies the whole record, in many ways.”
Maybe the best description of Fracasso is “straddler.” The record straddles emotional folk, pop and vintage rock. The lyrics in the originals can be interpreted in several ways and Fracasso’s cover interpretations, including the New York Dolls’ Johnny Thunder’s “You Can’t Put your Arms Around a Memory” and the optimistic Ray Davies’ “Better Things” are rather stunning. The many nuances throughout the album make for repeated listens.
– Jim Hynes