Dragonfly Summer (1993)
By Ralph Burnett
Michael Franks has extended his evocative artistry through an eleventh album, Dragonfly Summer, which connects the energies of some of the most successful players and producers this side of the ozone hole. It's been close to three years since the loitering success of his last recording Blue Pacific, an album that propelled Franks' unique vocals straight through NAC radio to the Pop charts (a chart he has flirted with since the success of the seductively silly "Popsicle Toes" in 1976).
To the casual listener, Michael Franks is known only as a well-placed ally of the sprout and crystal crowed or maybe a misplaced jazz vocalist who has heaped amazing success with the less-kinetically inclined consumer. A shallow dive below the surface, however, revels a consummate musician and a proven master of lyrical gymnastics. Possessing a Master's degree in comparative literature, it's no wonder Michael Franks has an intuitive knack for wrapping well-placed vocals around deceptively clever rhymes. Furthermore, the resulting uniqueness tends to drive pigeon-holers coopless by simply blurring the neatly drawn lines between prized and protected musical categories.
It was the collaboration on the song "The Dream" and the ensuing guest vocal on the Yellowjackets acclaimed Live Wires album that led Franks on an extended tour through Europe and the U.S. with the group. "It was a great experience," recalls Michael. "There's a real personal and musical connection between us." This fusing of energy is manifested in four songs on Dragonfly Summer that were produced, arranged and performed by the Yellowjackets (including a studio rendition of "The Dream"). Add to this, four tracks produced and arranged by longtime collaborator Jeff Lorber, who was a vital contributor to the shaping and success of Franks' last record.
Two engaging surprises (on an album full of surprises) come in the form of duets with legendary Peggy Lee and former Hot Lick Dan Hicks. Both tracks were produced by Ben Sidran, an artist and producer whom Franks has long admired. Michael first became acquainted with Lee early in his career when she recorded his tune "A Robin's Song." And it was in the mid-Seventies that Michael played banjo on one of Hicks albums and they've kept in touch ever since. "It was just a case of having someone perfect in mind for the songs," explains Franks.
I suppose the foremost surprise is Michael's sincere rendering of the theme to "I Love Lucy," a song that could have easily been slaughtered by any number of other less genuine suitors. "I'd been playing around with it for some time," explains Michael. "Desi always played it up-tempo, but I slowed it down . . . to emphasize the lyrics and melody." Gil Goldstein, a former member of Franks' band, produced this tune along with another passionate ballad, "How I Remember You."
Even though lines like "I hear from my ex on the back of my checks" are suspiciously missing from Dragonfly Summer, they certainly are not missed. "[This album] is a description of my life and feelings right now," explains Michael. "I wanted to give the poetic side of myself as much freedom of expression as possible."