CD reviews: Fran-Zik, Levon Helm and Bill Frisell |

CD reviews: Fran-Zik, Levon Helm and Bill Frisell

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Published: Michael Faas/Aspen Times Weekly

produced by Fran-Zik and Ashley Mosher

Fran-Zik – also known as Carbondale resident Paul Frantzich – strikes a neat balance between intensity and breeziness on “Feed Them With Music,” recorded at Aspen’s Great Divide Studios with local musicians John Michel on drums, Michael Jude on bass and Randy Utterback on electric guitar. Fran-Zik’s melodies and rhythms create a comfortable folk-rock flow. But in his songs about connection, freedom, inspiration and identity, his voice takes on an urgency; the singer he most closely resembles is Elvis Costello, and you can’t get much more urgent than that. (At other times, I was reminded of the mellower Marc Cohn.) Perhaps the best tune is the funky “Abraham,” which rolls together the Bible, nature and self-motivation, with Fran-Zik enunciating every word, so that will be heard.

Fran-Zik’s sense of purpose is reflected in his other mission, outside of making music. Frantzich is the founder of Feed Them With Music, an organization that asks musicians to donate a small percentage of sales of tickets, CDs and downloads to toward providing food for the hungry.

Fran-Zik performs a CD Release Party on Saturday, June 18 at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale.

produced by Danny Petraitis and Jed Hilly (Dirt Farmer Music)

On Robbie Robertson’s recent “How to Become Clairvoyant,” the former member of the Band goes deep into reflective mode, singing about his days in the Band, his battles with drugs and other tales from long ago.

Levon Helm, Robertson’s former Band mate, has been doing something very much like the opposite. At 71, Helm is too busy living (and playing) rock ‘n’ roll to think about his life in rock ‘n’ roll. He isn’t exactly reinventing the music, or even pushing it forward; “Ramble at the Ryman,” recorded in 2008 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, is old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes rock ‘n’ roll. There are covers of old blues (“Fannie Mae,” “Baby Scratch My Back”), old folk (“No Depression in Heaven,” “Wide River to Cross”) and songs from the old Band catalog (“Ophelia,” “Chest Fever”). But the guests keep coming (Sam Bush, Buddy Miller, John Hiatt, Little Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Bob Thornton, Sheryl Crow), and the horn section is loud and rowdy, giving this something like the feel of the Band’s monumental “Last Waltz” concert. Meaning this is all about rocking, not reflecting.

produced by Lee Townsend (Savoy Jazz)

The wondrously talented, ever-searching, endlessly compelling guitarist Bill Frisell takes yet another turn and discovers (actually, invents) yet another corner of music that is entirely fresh, and no question about it, Frisell. Here he gathers a new combo – the 858 Quartet, with violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, and cellist Hank Roberts, who was in Frisell’s first group, decades ago. (The name 858 comes from a group of paintings by German artist Gerhard Richter.) The sound and compositions here perfectly straddle edgy chamber music – I thought often of the Kronos Quartet – and Appalachian folk.

Frisell performs Aug. 3 at the PAC3 in Carbondale. The concert includes the 858 quartet, meaning violinist Jenny Scheinman will be making her second visit to the weeks-old venue. Scheinman was the opening act for the debut show, headlined by Bruce Cockburn, and she also played in Cockburn’s trio.

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