Singer and songwriter Michael Franks’ latest release, Barefoot on the Beach, is his first for his new label, Windham Hill Jazz. After 24 successful years with Warner Bros., Franks sees his relationship with Windham Hill as a chance to reinvigorate his music and to stretch his artistic vision. His rediscovered enthusiasm is found throughout the album, which also succeeds in capturing the romantic and playful qualities Franks’ fans are accustomed to in his lyrics and sound. On previous recordings, Franks collaborated with a number of smooth jazz artists, such as guitarist Chuck Loeb, Yellowjackets’ bassist Jimmy Haslip, and pianist Joe Sample. For this release, Franks turns to those relationships. While Loeb and Haslip co-produced this cd, musicians such as Michael and Randy Brecker, Steve Gadd, Bob James, and Bob Mintzer perform on it.
A highlight of the album is the duet “Now Love Has No End” between Franks and Valerie Simpson, a noted singer and songwriter in her own right. The song details the moment when falling in love makes you feel as if you have finally found where you belong. Fantasy and real life merge in the body of the person who admits to loving you as much as you love him or her. Simpson’s bell-like tone and clarity, coupled with Franks’ dreamy and delicate sound, give the song a seductive quality that fits in well with the overall conception of the album. Barefoot on the Beach is, as a whole, a meditation on the way in which falling in love is as much about connecting with another as it is recognizing oneself as delightful, pleasurable, and desirable. Listen to “Every Time She Whispers,” the title track, and “when you smile,” for examples. Franks also celebrates the details of daily life, a quality which makes his lyrics uniquely his own and lets you forgive him for bordering on the edge of corny-ness. As in the song “Double Talk” where he sings, “You’re so jive-sometimes I think your brain was mislaid/You’ve broken every promise you made/You ought to see a doctor for double talk.” Or the song, “Why Spring Ain’t Here,” where a failed relationship causes him to lament, “I can’t demote my overcoat cause/spring ain’t here/I still am seen in L. L. Bean cause/spring ain’t here.” Franks’ style has encouraged a vast swath of musicians-from Ringo Starr to Carmen McRae to Diana Krall-to cover him. And it’s no wonder because Franks succeeds in tapping into universal feelings about love through his individual experiences. This album is definitely a must for anyone not afraid to celebrate love and romance.