November 2005

David Francey - The Waking Hour
Red House Records RHR CD 182
Format: CD
Released: 2004

by David. J. Cantor

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

Having come up with early-'60s folk-revival recordings of singers accompanying themselves on guitar, I thought at first David Francey was revisiting that minimalist approach in The Waking Hour. That is how well Francey and the other players blend, how the guitar buttresses the songs despite their instrumental variety, and how melded that instrument is to Francey’s vocal nuances even though he isn’t playing it.

This album gets some of its subtle power from the blend of acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, dobro, and bouzouki, with occasional assist from harmonica, accordion, and percussion. It always sounds like more than the sum of its parts. Much of that effect comes from the combination of Francey’s plain verse structures, engaging lyrics, unaffected singing, and tempos, whether quick or medium. Avoiding too contemplative or belabored a sound ensures the listener that he is going somewhere, not idling in someone’s self-indulgence.

The title song, in the first slot, illustrates the strong verbs that propel Francey’s writing:

"I wake to the radio morning news
Just as the day is dawning
And I watch from the window while a passing cloud
Dulls the hopeful morning …."

His grasp of imagery and succinct characterization strike one in the next tune, "Highway 95":

"Woman in the Welcome House
She’s a flower of the South
Words are jewels in her mouth
In Northern Carolina."

If your taste runs to acoustic folk, jazz, blues, choral, and other vocal music, and if your sound system delivers the acoustic subtleties of finely crafted instruments seasoned with skillfully modulated vocals, you’ll appreciate the immediacy and clarity achieved at Nashville’s Moraine Studio. Francey arranged and produced, and Philip Scoggins did the recording, mixing, and mastering. But the material matters most. These are good songs -- it is hard to get them out of your head once your speakers put them there.