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DAVID FRANCEY - The First Set/Late Edition
Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX367/CDTRAX366

David Francey’s gig at my local folk club in 2008 was gaspingly good, one of the best I’ve ever seen. The songs of a rather diffident middle-aged man led us into his life and made us think about ours. Better known now than then, this Scots-born Canadian singer-songwriter still deserves a wider audience on this side of the pond. Greentrax has helped by licensing for release in the UK a live album, The First Set, and his ninth studio album, Late Edition. His first was released in 1999 at age 45. Even then, he carried on working as a carpenter and roofer in the construction industry until 2002. No ordinary musical career.

The First Set, recorded at a folk festival in Ohio in 2005, is 52 minutes of getting-to-know-you delight. The introductions are funny, warm and candid. The songs come straight from his life. Paperboy remembers his first job, before his family moved from Ayrshire to Canada when he was 12. Broken Glass is a touching recollection of tongue-tied teenage love. Tonight In My Dreams and Lucky Man are love songs for his second wife, Beth, yet he has the courage to sing about a difficult patch in the marriage in The Waking Hour. Political and social concerns are shared with subtlety in Fourth Of July, Torn Screen Door and Morning Train. The delivery is hands-in-pockets relaxed, the Scottish accent still just discernible. Simplicity is shot through with poetic images which linger in the mind. Shane Simpson accompanies him on guitar.

Late Edition shows the distance he has travelled in renown. Recorded in Nashville in 2010, it features Kieran Kane on banjo, mandolin and guitar, Fats Kaplin on fiddle, Richard Bennett on guitar, and Lucas Kane on drums. Many of the songs on this short 30-minute album have a fuller, country music sound than anything else David has done, but the style remains distinctive. The loose theme is his reactions to news – personal, local, and international. I Live In Fear (co-written with Kieran), Wonder and Blue Heart Of Texas have melodies so strong that I could imagine them as chart toppers in a slightly more sensible universe. Long Brown Hair and Just The Same show he was writing great songs in the early ‘90s, well before his debut album. The closing Grateful is another love song for Beth, who gave him the confidence to realise his talent.

David is the real deal, a man whose gift for lyric, melody and insight was hidden for too long but could not be denied. Go and see him when you can.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 93 of The Living Tradition magazine.