Denice Franke,
(Certain, 2001)

I like the sound of Denice Franke's second solo CD, Comfort. The album comprises nine originals, two covers and a short instrumental used as an intro to the final song. The lyrics are meaningful and, in more than one case, I felt I could relate the words to my own life. In addition, Denice's rich alto adds an emotional touch to the many ballads presented here. She knows how to connect with her audience.

Denice has roots in Dallas, but calls Houston home. While you can certainly hear her Texas heritage throughout her music, Denice's appeal is sure to range beyond the South. In fact, many potential fans who are unfamiliar with her name, are probably familiar with her vocals. According to the promotional materials, she has sung with "Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Tom Russell, John Gorka, Eric Taylor and others."

A good voice is only part of the equation. A very talented set of musicians has come together to contribute their skills on Comfort. Denice plays acoustic guitar. Eric Taylor also plays acoustic guitar as well as bass and provides some harmony vocals. Mike Sumler takes care of the organ and piano. James Gilmer plays drums and percussion. John Hagen is a very talented cello player. Gene Elders is just as competent on the violin. Eric Demmer plays saxophone. Tommy Elskes provides backing vocals. And Craig Holden knows his way around the pedal steel guitar.

I must warn listeners that the CD starts off with the weakest two selections. It took several listens for me to warm up to the cover of "Little Bit of Poison" and the Franke original "Personally." I am not saying these are bad songs, but they pale in comparison to the rest of the CD.

The third song, "Kindred Skin," is what really drew me into Denice's world. The song is about two strangers who have just met, yet seem right for each other. It doesn't hurt that I am a sucker for the cello (or any instrument from the violin family). Add in the piano and you have a very beautiful song indeed!

"Hard Comin' Home" has a similar feel, musically, with the mix of piano and violin this time. The tempo is a little faster and the topic now focuses on an individual with a ramblin' spirit. My favorite ballad, "Let Me Go," showcases the cello again (this time without the accompaniment of a piano). The ending of a relationship is something almost everyone has experienced, so this is probably a song most can relate to. These three pieces portray Denice at her best on Comfort.

I am drawn to the emotional depth of "Morning Glories." This song deals with the feelings of loneliness Denice feels when her love leaves her alone in their home. She knows he will return, but.... The acoustic guitar riff is a simple, yet catchy hook that grabbed me almost immediately.

The final song on the CD, "Dance To the Moon," is very reminiscent of Mary Chapin Carpenter. In fact, if I had not just heard 10 previous selections where Denice's voice is quite distinct, I might have thought I was hearing a new release from MCC. I do consider Mary more country, however, while Denice is definitely more folk.

Denice has written some excellent material on this CD. She is a talented singer, writer and guitar player. The artists that back her up on Comfort only add to the CD. This is a mellow folk CD with perhaps a hint of blues every once in a while. If you like this genre of music, then I recommend you find yourself a little spot of Comfort and sit down for a listen.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 22 September 2001

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