June 2004

Michael Fracasso - A Pocketful of Rain
Lone Star Records TMG-LS 4014
Released: 2004

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

I very much enjoy this disc! Michael Fracasso has a high, nasal voice, and once you let it carry you into the well-strung words and simple, engaging melodies, the varied rhythms and fine pacing of the songs hold you in a thoughtfully created musical world.

The process is slightly hampered, I find, by an opening track, "All or Nothing," that should have been placed later in the album or, ideally, more conscientiously arranged. The talented singer Patty Griffin accompanies Fracasso here and on several other tunes. But in the refrain and elsewhere on this one, she constantly repeats a high note -- the tonic above the melody -- that is more irritating than musical because it’s relied upon so much, neglecting potentially more interesting opportunities. The song itself is solid; the track just isn’t the best foot forward for such a fine collection.

The title track, "Pocketful of Rain," picks things up in the second slot. Sung at a rapid but even pace, the first verse engages the listener with its concreteness and clarity.

Jamie’s looking kind of frail
Wearing a frown biting her nails
Me I’m down in a rut
Too many days getting too messed up

One of A Pocketful of Rain’s virtues is that, no matter how many instruments and voices back up Fracasso’s lead singing or how quickly he pronounces the lines, the listener doesn’t feel the frustration of not being able to make out the words.

One of my favorites is "Turned You Down." I like the way Fracasso does so much with lines almost entirely of one note by singing them quickly and with conviction, then pausing dramatically just as the more melodic refrain hits. Form follows function nicely. The verses describe experiences of "the quiet ones" who "always erupt," their monotones suggesting the persistence in someone’s life of "Red lights flashing / You cannot cross," "In a crowd of people / Always ill at ease," and other experiences that do not outwardly signal distress or rage that may build inside. The refrain breaks the monotony, erupting into melody as "quiet ones" suddenly act on pent-up feelings: "Turned you down / Turned you down / Turned you down / Now you’ll show them."

Most of the songs on A Pocketful of Rain are conventionally produced folk mixed with rock, along the lines of much singer-songwriter material. Portions of the disc feature Fracasso alone with voice and guitar. The couple of blues tunes -- "Devil’s Deal" and "Ragamuffin Blues" -- are good blues, not just "white boy trying to be cool." Somewhat like Geoff Muldaur, two of whose CDs I’ve reviewed for SoundStage!, Fracasso plays better-than-decent blues guitar.

Fracasso wrote or co-wrote 11 of the album’s 12 songs and covers Towne Van Zandt’s fine "Loretta," which goes nicely with Fracasso’s material and style. This is Fracasso’s fifth album since 1993, so he’s plugged away at his craft for quite a while. Since many others do the same, often with much flourish and without comparable success, mere practice can’t explain Fracasso’s mature understanding that being an artistic songwriter doesn’t mean associating oneself with "the stars" or proving how profound one is. Instead, it comes from directing one’s time and energy to the line and verse at hand.

Some of my favorite lyrics on A Pocketful of Rain convey that understanding, including the lines that open the last song. So I’ll close with a brief paean to the many concrete, evocative lyrical lines that come at you from this album. Fracasso truly understands the value of repetition and simplicity and of keeping cliches at bay, those deadening phrases that could come from anyone and don’t need artists to perpetuate them. When you hear what news folks call "the actuality," I think you’ll enjoy how the last track, "Shoot’n for Love," is sung. Its lazy-but-steady pace contrasts with less skilled, more frantically self-promoting expressions of the pursuit of love, and just to illustrate this singer-songwriter’s gift for words, here is how it begins:

I don’t want to meet Bob Dylan
He’s too big a personality
If I never converse with that man of verse
Yeah, that would be just fine with me

And I don’t want to live in a mansion
Way up there with the stars
Don’t want to say that I had my way with you
No matter who you are.

I’m shootin’ for love
I’m shootin’ for love
I’m shootin’ for love