April 1, 2007


Ramblin' Man: Ron Franklin settles down with City Lights, his most high-profile release yet. (ANDRIA LISLE, 2/22/07, Memphis Flyer)

Various affectations, ranging from Franklin's appreciation for various noms-de-plume (he produced his newest album, City Lights, which is due this week, under the moniker Leroy Star & Flapper) to his time as an ex-pat in Europe and his love of the Southern mystique, bring to mind another Memphis rambler, Tav Falco.

Like Falco, Franklin has cultivated a talented yet loosely configured crop of backup musicians, including drummer Ross Johnson, who has performed with Falco's group Panther Burns on and off for the past 30 years.

Falco, however, views himself as a performance artist who has used a chainsaw to draw attention to the wild rockabilly and roots music of this region -- and there the similarities end.

Franklin has no need for such antics. On songs such as "Little Suzie" and "Gloryland," his musicianship, augmented by a stellar cast that includes Jim Dickinson and Adam Woodard on the keys, bassist Jeremy Scott, pedal-steel player John Whittemore, banjo player Randal Morton, and percussionist Greg Roberson, shines through to stand front-and-center.

Cut, like most of Franklin's other work, at Willie Mitchell's Royal Recording Studio in South Memphis, City Lights evokes the sounds of Chicago's Chess Records rather than the revolutionary arrangements Mitchell is known for, particularly on a well-placed cover of Chuck Berry's "Thirty Days," re-interpreted with a revival-like fervor.

Gospel-influenced tunes such as "Beyond the River" and "How Free Will I Be This Morning" shift the mood from a stompin' Sunday-morning service to a twangy cowboy's lament, while the album's opener, "Warming by the Devil's Fire" and "What Is This Present Moment" rock like outtakes from the Band's Moondog Matinee.

"It's a familiar room," Franklin says of the decision to cut at Royal. "Depending on what I hear in my head, I get a sense of where I want to set things up. Having Dickinson play with us was pretty wild. I really don't have any memory of actually playing at that session. I do recall listening in on the headphones. What Jim was playing has ultimately affected the way I perceive these songs, long after I'd written them."

The album follows closely on the heels of another Franklin release, Blue Shadows Falling, recorded at Royal with bassist Ilene Markell, pianist Gerald Stephens, and drummers Renardo Ward and Paul Buchignani. Yet while Blue Shadows Falling is available as a self-produced, limited-edition CD, City Lights will be released on Memphis International Records, which gives Franklin access to a publicity department and international distribution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 1, 2007 12:00 AM
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