Rick Crandall, www.musictampabay.com
Review of 49x61 (from Suncoast Blues Society 12 Bar Rag, Sept. 2010)
Appeared in the 12 Bar Rag, the Suncoast Blues Society Newsletter, Sept-Oct. 2010 issue)
Not everyone will like Franc Robert’s style of blues, but those who do, will love him. In fact it’s a good bet a very large contingent of local fans do, including those who go to Walker Smith Group and Delta Aces appearances, or have seen him in the past with the Back Alley Blues Band, or at local appearances yet to come with his latest collective effort called The Boxcar Tourists, which is also the title of one of the tracks on his 2010 CD titled 49×61 – Heartache & Sorrow. Put it all together and what emerges is a collection of nitty gritty, gut wrenching, hard core, deep south blues, evoking images of smoke-filled bars along the Louisiana bayous and Mississippi deltas, or just about anywhere around the Tampa Bay music scene.
This self-released collection that includes a couple of covers, is augmented by 9 showcase original blues ballads by an artist described by the Suncoast Blues Society as an entertainer who “can flat smoke”. Heartache and sorrow never sounded so good. In every track there’s a hint of Muddy Waters vocals mixed with BB King style guitar styling. Franc Robert is 21st century digital age swamp music.
The journey begins with Goin Down South – Grinding along like an old pick-up truck on a country road in Arkansas or Alabama, or maybe just outside Palatka or Bartow. Somewhere along the way the Boxcar Tourist appears out of a side road, cruising along at a nice pace, stroking words through the mic like making love in the back seat of an old Ford coupe. Of course, the object of these affections is Queen of Hearts, a song that Robert released a few years back that has a curious familiarity with an old pop song called Willy and the Hand Jive, but with lyrics that uniquely reveal how love can be like a game of poker, with the Queen of Hearts as the winning card.
Troubles Be On My Mind offers fans a chance to appreciate Robert’s guitar stylings, an instrumental composition with slow, sultry slide finger movements that could easily be the soundtrack for a porno movie, or just for listening while laying back on the beach and catching some Florida sun.
When the track titled Monday Morning Blues comes up, it is easy to imagine listening to BB King playing the lead in this low down & dirty tune with great piano interlude. Words that are familiar to all of us, like “don’t wanna face the morning…stuck again in that traffic jam…almost got crushed…stinking job for low pay… Lord there’s got to be another way”, these are the emotions of life that 49×61 reveal with clarity and force.
Moving to Splitsville changes the pace with rocky, wailing, twangy instrumentation, and Robert’s painful voice evoking the “what goes around comes around” principle when he discover she’s movin’ out, and he’s left out.
Crossroads Stomp – Here is one of Robert’s cover songs displaying his buzz guitar work and wailing vocals that tear up the pavement around the crossroads that lay down the theme of the album, heartache and sorrow. A hard driving percussion keeps this piece moving through the intersection at breakneck speed.
Back Alley Blues is another instrumental, probably a theme song for one of his earlier bands, played with more signature Robert twangy guitar licks that demonstrate his true mastery of the instrument.
Out front, a half dozen guitar styles emerge from the work, ranging from fuzz, to slide, to a lot of twang, and hard driving southern rock & blues. Behind it all is a back alley percussion, which in fact is the backbone of local blues bands, and the title of another track in the CD’s mix. Lyrics like “life is tough baby” and “I’m a ramblin’ man,” , flow like a river through all untamed and raw back alleys of life.