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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: David Francey & Mike Ford - Seaway


David Francey & Mike Ford - Seaway
2009, Laker Music/SOCAN (Canada)

David Francey is a three-time Juno Award winning singer and songwriter who is a favorite on the folk circuit in Canada, The US and beyond. Mike Ford, late of Moxy Fruvous, is a singer/songwriter and educator whose songs bring aspects and events of Canadian history and geography to life as recipient of the Ontario Arts Council Artist In Education grant. A few years back Francey and Ford spent several weeks traveling the Great Lakes aboard the M.V. Algoville, taking in the life of a seaman and writing songs. Some of the fruit of that trip has finally been released on the collaborative album Seaway.

Seaway opens with David Francey singing Banks Of The Seaway, a celebration of the majesty of the St. Lawrence seaway as if from another time. The arrangement is interesting, having an almost dirge-like quality and yet full of awe and deep-seated passion. Mike Ford takes the mic next on The Eastern Gap, a song that originally appeared on Ford's 2008 album Satellite Hotstove. The version offered here is a bit more textured and full sounding than the original but essentially unchanged. The Eastern Gap is a song of romance, recalling a time when a boy or girl might stand on the shore and see a large ship heading out and wondering about the future that ship might be going to. The Chief Engineer (Francey) is the tale of one seaman and his true love. Francey has the gift of words and the economy to use them wisely, bringing the subject of his song alive for listeners. The Seaway (Ford) is a love song for the lifestyle of a sailor; the narrator is willing to give up all the comforts of land just to be on the seaway. The energy here is inspired; the melody memorable. The Seaway also originally appeared on Ford's Satellite Hotstove, but gets something of an upgrade here with Francey and fellow Moxy Fruvous alum David Matheson joining in on harmony vocals.

Francey is next with the inspired The Unloading, a somewhat darker tune about the relentless repetition of a seaman's life as portrayed the oft-repeated step of delivering cargo. The melody of The Unloading followed me for a few days, popping up in my head at inopportune times. Climbing Up To The Soo (Ford) is a snapshot of traveling through The Soo Locks that separate Lake Superior from the other Great Lakes. Ford takes a place, as he often does, and brings it to life with real people and moments in song. Climbing Up To The Soo is sung practically as a lullaby; a comforting moment in the journey. Dustless Road To The Happy Land (Francey) has an old time feel and may refer to the passenger ships that traveled between Chicago and Buffalo and into Canada in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. Francey follows that up with The Parting, a soothing-yet-melancholy waltz about saying goodbye. Parting is full of a heart-breaking quiet grace that will captivate listeners.

There's No Rush (Ford) has a Caribbean flavor and highlights the change in worldview that might occur with some time at sea. There's an easy feel to the arrangement that fits the lyrics. Ford takes us to slightly darker waters on Canal, a song that reflects the lonely nature of being self-made. In this case the sense of grandeur is applied to the St. Lawrence Seaway Canal. It is a dark ode that runs short but deep in both affection and respect. The Ballad Of Bowser MacRae (Francey) is the story of a lifetime seaman who balances a family on land and the call of the Great Lakes. It's fairly standard fare for the Folk World, except that Francey, like Mike Ford, has a gift for words and moments. Mike Ford gets theatrical on When You're The Skip, borrowing melody components from his song The Oak Island Mystery. The song is an entertaining way to tell the roles of various members of a ship's crew, and plays a bit upon the superstitious nature of sailors.

Ashtabula (Francey) pays tribute to Ashtabula, Ohio, one of the largest Coal ports on the Great Lakes. The song is a sweet remembrance of time long ago when Ashtabula was a bustling Lakes hub, as well as the effects that the decline in Great Lakes commerce has had on the town. Mike Ford lightens the mood with 21st Century Great Lake Navigators, an acoustic Hip-Hop tribute to those who created the system of locks and ships and to the sailors who continue to carry goods through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. The Bottom Of The Great Lakes (Ford) pays tribute to all of the ships and sailors who have found their final rest beneath the Great Lakes. The song is highly melodic (as per usual for Mike Ford), with a clear series of narratives that is both entertaining and educational. Seaway closes out with All Lights Burning Bright (Francey), a wonderful Celtic-flavored tune inspired by the last logbook entry at the end of a shift on a lake boat.

David Francey and Mike Ford are two very distinctive and unique voices as songwriters. Francey is a classic folk troubadour; his songs inspired by his Scottish roots, his working class background (Francey didn't release his first album until the age of 45 after spending years working as a carpenter) and his unique view of the world. Mike Ford spices up serious subjects with a larger-than-life story telling style sprinkled liberally with dashes of humor. Both voices are amazing on their own, and their conjunction on Seaway is compelling. Seaway will get serious consideration in Canada as the best folk album of 2009. Don't be surprised if a fourth Juno Award graces Francey's wall (with a first for Ford). Seaway is a Wildy's World Certified Desert Island Disc.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about David Francey at http://www.davidfrancey.com/. You can learn more about Mike Ford at http://www.mikeford.ca/. You can purchase a copy of Seaway from CDPlus, or you can download the album from iTunes.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Wow... I love David Francey's singing... I've got to check to see if this has made it on to iTunes... Thanks

Dave