David Francey,
So Say We All
(Red House, 2013)

David Francey migrated from Scotland to Canada with his family before he'd reached his teens. He didn't turn himself into a professional musician and songwriter until 1999, when he was 45, upon retirement after a long career as a carpenter. The first part of this biography strikes me as remarkable, given that his songs are written and sung as if by someone who never departed from the home turf. What's less surprising is that by delaying his entrance onto the scene, Francey was afforded the mature perspective that provides So Say We All with such strength and virtue.

I suppose that's also true of earlier recordings unheard by me. Heretofore, Francey had been only one of many names that blow my way, though this one has always seemed accompanied by mighty gusts of praise. Happily, Francey is indeed the finest folk-based Canadian singer and songwriter of his generation. Even so, if he resembles any single performer, Archie Fisher, who is a lifelong Scot, comes to mind. Less immediately, there are echoes of early Dylan in the sure-handed way Francey drafts traditional elements into a modern, personal art. Everything feels as if at once timeless and contemporary -- not a feat to be attempted by the faintly talented.

So Say We All boasts 14 cuts, pretty generous for a CD of new music these days. There is no filler. Each song -- all are originals -- has its own distinct character. The material is set in unfussy but sturdy arrangements by Francey's touring band: Chris Cole (banjo, guitar), Mark Westberg (guitar, percussion) and Darren McMullen (various stringed instruments, piano), who are joined by Tannis Slimmon (harmonies) and David's son Colin Francey (drums). The gloriously tuneful songs tend to the melancholic, indicative of (so say the notes) recent, unspecified difficulties in Francey's life; yet Francey transforms those troubles into something accessible to all of us who live and struggle. His singing bespeaks experience and intelligence. If you're playing the album as background music while you do something else, be warned: it will pull you in.

Enough is going on, in other words, to warrant and reward multiple, attentive listenings. In my case, on first exposure "Long Long Road" leaped out of the speakers, to take up extended residence in the musical part of my brain. It's not that its subject is a particularly novel one, or its melody unique; it's just that everything comes together to drive even the most jaded consumer into joyful embrace of the notion that one has never heard the like, and to be thrilled accordingly. "Ordinary Man" has to be the most affecting political song since Rita Hosking's destined-to-be classic "Ballad for the Gulf of Mexico." "Cheap Motel," a road musician's reflections on less than princely accommodations, is a welcome dose of rueful humor rendered in perfect deadpan.

That's not all, but I'll let you seek out the rest for yourself. A prediction, though: Before the year is out, So Say We All will be awash in awards and drowning in hosannas. And a suggestion: You may as well get on the boat now.

music review by
Jerome Clark

11 May 2013

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