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Lewis Franco: Press

Former Northern Power employee-turned-singer/songwriter Lewis Franco is one of Vermont’s best-kept musical secrets. An understated and good-natured family man residing in the greater Montpelier area, Franco is one of the Green Mountains’ most gifted musicians, a performer who is able to wrap well-crafted lyrics around catchy musical melodies, and possesses the guitar chops and musical sensibility to match.
Franco’s new project – performed with an ensemble cleverly called the “Missing Cats,” and tinged with a scat-meet-gypsy swing sound – may be his best yet. Franco is always good at pushing the envelope – lyrically, musically, instrumentally – and he really goes to town on this new project. “Swinging in Daddyland” is toe-tapping infectious acoustic music at its best – equal parts Django Reinhart on the gypsy end, and, on the other, a Dan Zanes-ian Americana sensibility with a big-hearted sense of humor that grins, winks and nudges without being trite, sentimental or cheesy.
Pulling off a “concept” album – “Swing” meets “Gypsy” meets “Americana” – can be real hard to do. But Franco courageously commits up front. And the best part of Franco’s songs, for me, is the fact that they always have a little musical and/or lyrical twist to them, including the use of odd instruments (a washing machine, for example, in his new project), or a zany concept he manages to pull off with a wink and a grin (Long-time Franco listeners know “Who Put the Hyper in Your Diaper?” from his first CD), as well as wonderful contributions from a whole community of friends and neighbors, from his multi-talented musical neighbor Colin McCaffrey to his daughter and son Louisa and Joseph.
The new CD comes out, well, swinging, with the title track, and then quickly jumps into a wonderful tune called “Homegrown” about the creature comforts of living in the “Householder” stage – a rhythmically wonderful ode to “place” and all that it entails, the homestead garden, the day-to-day rhythm of the seasons, the small pleasures of family. Imagine the lyrics below, performed against a groovy and rhythmic acoustic beat:
Good stuff growin’ in the garden
Jumpin’ up out of the dirt
Cook it up right for supper tonight
The neighbors will be bringin’ desert
We don’t need television
We don’t need a video game
We have our fun together
It isn’t too exciting but I love it just the same

And this song highlights another wonderful aspect to Franco’s tunes – I feel like he is singing about me and everyone I know who has ever been a parent with children and a family.
My two kids’ current favorite on the CD is a wonderful tune called “Have You Looked?” (track 3), a father/daughter duet about finding lost stuff – a necklace, Mommy (she’s in the garden), a pillow, and…well, I won’t spoil the ending for you, but let me just say that, as a father, I almost broke down the first time I heard the end of the song – laughing and crying all at once. Brilliantly orchestrated, and so simple.
Personally, I am drawn to track 7 – “Annabelle” – an acoustic rock and roll number about a father and daughter spending a day out, and their encounters with a band playing dance music. It is a spontaneous, fun, catchy and upbeat tune about seizing the moment, wrapped up (very subtly) with a reminder that kids do grow up (Never mind track 6, “Rude Awakening” – a bluesy number urging adults in love to think thrice before they plunge into the baby thing) and, Franco reminds us that we parents need to practice “carpe diem” behavior at every opportunity.
And I haven’t even begun to mention the other ten tunes (yes, there are an ambitious 15 songs on this project).
Suffice to say, Lewis Franco has set a very high bar for Green Mountain singer/songwriters with his new and wondrous CD. Don’t miss him, performing with “the Missing Cats,” at some of Vermont’s best venues this next month!
And keep it swinging.
I don’t like children’s music. It’s funny, because, for the most part, I like kids. And believe it or not, I like music. So what is it about the meeting of the two that rubs me the wrong way? Is it the inane lyrics? The obnoxiously catchy, singsong melodies? The idea that sleazy record execs are corrupting generations of youth by force-suckling them at the altar of consumerism, masquerading as giant, fuzzy purple dinosaurs? Yes. Yes. And abso-freakin’-lutely. It’s enough to make one to pray for sterility.

But don’t tie those tubes just yet; there’s hope on the horizon.
Central Vermont songwriter Lewis Franco is one hep daddy-o. With his latest offering, Swingin’ in Daddyland, the guitarist delivers a rock-solid swing record likely to enthrall the kiddies over and over again. But perhaps more importantly, it won’t drive their parents nuts upon repeat listens.
To call this album “children’s music” is perhaps not quite fair.

Family-oriented, the target audience is certainly kids. But unlike any number of kinder-music artists — Raffi being perhaps the worst culprit — Franco doesn’t assume your kids are dumb. He charmingly addresses myriad topics from the obvious (love, family, etc.) to less traditional themes such as the actual responsibility required to properly raise children, and the inevitable frustrations that arise in doing so.

Speaking to the latter issue, “Have You Looked” is likely the finest track here, and serves as an apt summation of the album’s overall feel and blue-eyed soul. A back-and-forth between Franco and his 10-year-old daughter Louisa — who displays remarkable tone and control for such a tender age — the song centers around children’s tendencies to “misplace” items that were never really lost at all. “Daddy, have you seen my necklace?” inquires Louisa, innocently. “Have you looked in the vicinity of your neck?” replies Daddy.

By the song’s finish, Daddy is clearly exasperated. Louisa’s solution to finding his “lost” patience? Looking in the vicinity of his heart.

Franco is a masterful songwriter and handles potentially cornball material with grace and affection. It doesn’t hurt that his band, The Missing Cats, serve up some seriously hot swing throughout, lending an innocently playful quality to the recording. Given the local all-star cast — Gabe Jarrett, Robinson Morse and Will Patton, to name but a few — that should surprise no one.
Swingin’ in Daddyland is a delightful alternative to the flood of intellectually and emotionally vacant releases vying for your kid’s entertainment dollar — and their parents’ sanity.