Love Implied is a softer album than Francke's most recent prior releases. Listening to it, I needed more time to find my place in it; where Heartless World had me hooked by the 2nd song, it took until the 2nd spin this time. The first song that really grabbed me was one I saw by title first: Big Man. Being a longtime Springsteen fan, of course I immediately thought of Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011. But Big Man was also the nickname for Stew's dad; the former Saginaw mayor who passed away in 2010. The song is a goofy homage to the strain of big band music the elder Francke loved; presented almost as a throw-away, its joyous hook and shouted one-line lyric brought an instant smile to my face.
Big Man opened up the rest of the album for me: It's about the music. Music as a way of being alive. Music as life. Music as an expression of place, of love, of making a sort of peace with the world. The album works best for me in its connections of the music to the moment: In Leave A Light On, Francke sings, "I love you more than my favorite song." If that's not the ultimate expression of love, then what is?
Music as life comes in to sharper focus on the album's best song, Drive North. This song may be the most perfect expression I've yet heard in my 20 years in Michigan of the ethos of this state's natives. "Around here we drive North." It should be a state song. It's who we are. I've only been to St. Ignace a couple times, but when Francke sums up the connection of place, life and song with an exquisite final line, "By midday tomorrow I'll be in St. Ignace singing some new song," the resonance is perfect. In this song I also noticed how much Stew's voice reminds me of another of my favorite rock tenors, Nils Lofgren.
The album worked less well for me when diving in to the recent economic hardships. Not that those hardships aren't every bit as real as they were a couple years ago;, but their presence (and acceptance, as it were) is already in the remainder of the album. Or, perhaps it was just a gut-reaction to hearing "Merrill Lynch" being used as an adjective. But the song housing that line, Dancing On The Killing Floor, has the best groove on the record. The implied subtext is, "yeah, things suck. Let's dance."
|Drive North. Stewart Francke with band members Christopher Plankster, Gia Warner, Pete Peltier and Beth Griffith at the Magic Bag, January 25, 2013.|
Love Implied is available from amazon and from Stewart's web site.