Michael Franks,
Rendezvous in Rio
(Koch, 2006)

I wanted to review this release because I've always liked Michael Franks and Brazilian music. I figured I couldn't go wrong with the combination implied by Rendezvous in Rio, and I haven't -- it's a very tasty album. As expected, many of the 10 songs have the beat of a samba, or a close relative. "Under the Sun" is my favorite. It has the delightful, carefree feel of the best of Brazilian pop, and Franks' voice is a perfect match for the mood. His sound has always reminded me of the light, boyish-toned Brazilians such as Joao Gilberto.

But the bossa nova turns out to be only part of the pleasure. Franks has been recording for quite awhile now, and nearly half the album is nostalgic for his jazz roots. "The Cool School" pays homage to Chet Baker and Mose Allison; "Scatsville" is ambivalent about scat singing -- and includes some; "Hearing 'Take Five,'" played appropriately in 5/4 time, recalls the glories of the original Dave Brubeck quartet.

I should mention to my editor that I'm writing this review under protest since "The Critics Are Never Kind" is neither Brazilian nor from the cool school. Instead it's a scathing critique of critics. It accuses them (me!) of using "pedantic words" and trying for "razor sharp wit ... But who gives a s___"

A major part of Franks' attraction has always been his lyrics. Who, if they are old enough and cool enough, will ever forget "Popsicle Toes?" There are many clever lines here. A few of my favorites:

Speaking of music, "What became of heroes? Now it's ones and zeroes."

Of cold weather, "The clothes on my back are too Pasternak."

And of love, "I've hovered over each blossom comparing the nectar but now I'm a tired hummingbird."

The sidemen are outstanding and fit themselves perfectly into the album's moods. Their mostly well-known chops are a tribute to Franks' ability to attract strong players. Versatile keyboardist Dave Sancious was first widely heard in Springsteen's E Street Band, but is also known for his jazz playing. Reed man Chris Hunter has been recording frequently as a leader. Here he's especially effective on flute. Eric Marienthal, on alto and tenor, is becoming the most ubiquitous studio musician since David Sanborn, though not yet approaching Sanborn's knack for contributing to hit recordings. And what would sambas be without guitars? Romero Lubambo best fits the Brazilian groove. Chuck Loeb stands out on multiple instruments including guitar, and contributed four of the arrangements.

So who says "critics are never kind"? I loved the album, Michael. Heartily recommended to cool samba fans everywhere.

by Ron Bierman
17 March 2007

Buy it from Amazon.com.