David Francey: The Waking Hour

Zeth Lundy

Fourth full-length from Juno Award winner Francey is an album rooted in traditional folk. A mixed bag, its stronger songs can be unusually powerful.

David Francey

The Waking Hour

Label: Red House
US Release Date: 2005-02-08
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

The Waking Hour is a record of subtle wisdom and distinction, a collection of folk songs that observe life from the eyes of an exceedingly humble everyman. Though he has called Canada home since the age of 12, David Francey writes songs that owe more to the rural folk traditions of his native Scotland than the Canadian provinces. The Waking Hour, an acoustic recording adorned with mandolins, fiddles, and banjos, is one of those blink-and-you'll-miss-it albums. It doesn't so much ask for your patience as it insists that you approach it with all guards down; when it does reward this unbiased attention (not always, but often), its payoffs can be unusually powerful.

Francey's story is unusual and encouraging: after working for many years as a carpenter in Quebec, he's only now, in his early 50s, beginning his career as a professional musician. His last two albums -- 2001's Far End of Summer and 2003's Skating Rink -- earned him Juno Awards, and now The Waking Hour has been nominated for a possible third. The kudos have been well-deserved: Francey, whose Scottish-accented voice is sobering and fatherly, recalls the disarming simplicity of fellow Canadian Ron Sexsmith ("The Waking Hour") and the emotional topography of roots figurehead Steve Earle ("Ashtabula"). If he's not as consistently strong and incisive as Sexsmith or Earle, Francey is capable of intermittently rivaling them. The Waking Hour, in particular, isn't a thoroughly perfect listen; it includes a number of lesser songs that make the stronger inclusions stand out.

As his song-by-song liner notes attest, Francey is, above all else, a documentarian in three-minute increments. He casts burrowing glances at himself, at strangers, and at prevailing social moods, at once surgically precise and attuned to the larger picture. The American travel tale "Highway 95" showcases his astute use of imagery, recalling "Three crosses in a copse of trees / A long way from Calvary" and meeting a Southern belle whose "words are jewels in her mouth". "Ankle Tattoo" observes the wandering lives intersecting at a bus station -- of which Francey's is one -- and uses images as character speculation: "There's a girl with her legs crossed, got an ankle tattoo / It's an ugly reminder in four shades of blue". When Francey turns to politics, he's merely a reflector of the times, almost staunchly refusing to come down on a particular side: "Wishing Wells" charts a conflicted opinion of Timothy McVeigh's execution; and "Fourth of July" ponders the real motivations behind some of the 9/11 remembrances ("It's September and I can't help but think that / It looks like the fourth of July").

Recorded with a small core of supporting musicians in Nashville, (including Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane, and Fats Kaplin), The Waking Hour sounds as crisp and lucid as Francey's songs, its folk and bluegrass infections translating easily onto the page. Occasionally, Francey's melodies have a tendency to be redundant, especially since they don't stray from echoing the traditional folk songs of both Scotland and the U.S., but Francey's emotionally topical lyrics are often the redeeming factor. A few songs, notably "Tonight in My Dreams", "Gone", and "Wanna Be Loved", while pleasant enough, come off as calculated, by-the-numbers coffeehouse folk; yet Francey repeatedly proves that he's better than those two songs would otherwise indicate.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.