Franklin Bruno: Kiss Without Makeup

Franklin Bruno
Kiss Without Makeup
Absolutely Kosher

Lo-fi. Indie. Minimalist. Sparse. DIY.

No, no,’re thinking Elephant 6 or Lou Barlow or Elliot Smith. Let me try again.

Pensive. Ironic. Wry. Subtle. Original.

Ahh, now we have it. Franklin Bruno is a witty writer whose stripped down songs toss the focus onto his sterling wordplay where it belongs. You will have to sail some obtuse melodies and offbeat vocals on occasion, but it’s a journey worth taking. While capable of singing on key — he does it here frequently — Bruno occasionally misdirects himself, never more so than on the hilarious “Nurse.” But play that song with full band, sing with an emotional tonal edge and you have Elvis Costello circa 1978. Other times, as on the jazzed-up version of “Clean Needle,” he could be mistaken for an atonal Martin Mull on a lounge bender, which is not a redundant example. “Thin Weak Smile” and “Narrow Shoulders” are caustic roadhouse country drinkers, while “Idiots” plays like a Tom Lehrer song.

Most pieces feature simple guitar, acoustic bass, maybe light percussion or a horn. But bubbling behind that voice and underneath that smirk is a mind not unlike that of Randy Newman or Loudon Wainwright: astute observationalist, detached participant, pitiable yet unknowingly in charge all along. On “Beautiful Right Now,” complete with muted horns and John Wesley Harding phrasing (the singer, not the Dylan record) he even buries a limerick in a verse with a straight face:

“If you’re tired of being young and healthy
If there’s something you prefer
It seems to me there can’t
Be a simpler wish to grant
Just keep an eye on the calendar”

Kiss Without Makeup certainly isn’t a record for all moods, nor is it easy to recommend; most listeners won’t have the patience. But those who appreciate artists of this type will do cartwheels. And that’s what independent music is all about anyway, right?