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BluesBlues 2022 Chart
Fran McGillivray Band – Rain (Self Released)
The Fran McGillivray Band is an experienced trio of musicians that have been bringing us their unique take on Roots music for a number of years. This, their first album in 5 years, opens with the climate change warning of The Flood which is a brooding Americana. We have spectral electric guitar from Mike Burke over an acoustic backing. Fran comes out vocally tops with suitable feel for the tone of the song. A good start. The pandemic is never far away on songs over the past couple of years and I Play By The Rules gives a subtle nudge to those who didn’t. It’s sedate and smooth with a very good acoustic solo from Burke which is almost Latin in its execution. Come Up Smiling is very easy going with a slight Reggae beat to it along with some Latin influences too. Fran is a soothing vocalist and her calm tones come across well on this slow groove. We get a slow Rhumba with a smooth Blues feel on Havana Blues and Fran gives us a sultry vocal as the band gives it a slow shuffle with slinky guitar and drums (Roger Nunn). Fran’s bass is always on point but this time she also adds the flute. She brings us a soulful vocal for the laid back Jump Back, complete with a funky South American beat before taking us to Canada for Toronto Nights. This continues their gentle approach and Fran’s deep vocal tones. There is some harmony from Burke and Nunn but there is also lots of string noise which can be distracting. Not distracting enough however to put us off Burke’s Latin themes.
Too High A Price is a slick Blues rocker in their own inimitable style and although they’re not a raucous band, this could’ve been a bit more edgy. Fran’s back on flute again for Driving In The Rain and I think there may be a guiro in amongst the percussion giving a Latin feel. This is one for slow and slinky acoustic late-night listening. Dressed To Kill is a lazy, jazzy Blues with pinpoint guitar from Burke and another for a late-night lounge. The shuffling Teach Me Everything is an acoustic led jazzy Blues again. They are a very tight knit and professional outfit with no histrionics or big egos, just very good musicians comfortable with each other. The Struggle is another that deals with climate change and corporate greed. Nunn has his drums to the fore as Fran delivers another sultry vocal. The song is bluesy with Burke’s guitar pinging and you know that Fran’s bass is there but like always, not in your face. To show her versatility she also adds keys. Smooth and sultry are the watchwords and that continues with the trance inducing Heaven Or Hell. It’s Blues based with prominent bass and an assured vocal from Fran. They finish with I Want To Hear You Sing, another pandemic related track, and a relaxed ending. The graceful vocal is set off by a backing of just guitar to give us a simple, elegant finish.
"Rain" Review in Blues Matters Magazine, April 2022
Dependably good stuff from under-rated British folk and blues veteran McGillivray and friends. Rain features 13 original songs, with production deliberately designed to emphasise quality song writing in a late-night style, with intelligent lyrics centring on relationship themes and sometimes venturing into social commentary. The musical corollary is that this is a shredding-free zone; the guitar work barely breaks into overdrive and usually tends towards the jazzy, and the drums eschew the big breat for persistent understatement.
The opener, The Flood, is a minor key warning about the dangers of climate change that incorporates shades of country, which I gather has had some airplay on country radio shows. I Play By The Rules is written from the standpoint of a constant and committed lover, in love with someone who doesn't feel quite the same way. Jump Back sees the band get its groove on, while Dressed To Kill is a reminder that it's not just teenagers who like to dress to impress and go out partying on the weekend. Teach Me Everything You Know is unmistakeably an age-appropriate expression of carnal desire, and funk-tinged 12 bar The Struggle takes a tilt at greedy so and so's everywhere. I Want To Hear You Sing lifts a classic country-blues chord progression to good effect.
This one is obviously on the more laid-back side of the blues spectrum, which will help it find listeners outside purist circles. And deservedly so.
"Rain" Review in R'n'R Magazine, March 2022
We've waited five years for a new recording from Fran McGillivray, but it has been worth the wait, as Rain is pure balm for the soul. Fran, Mike Burke and Roger Nunn return with thirteen band-penned tracks to delight us with tender, expressive vocals, stylishly crafted arrangements and wonderful musicianship. Fran may not do ostentatious, be she does consistently serve up elegant songs that are a joy to hear.
Once again, the track list draws from a varied range of influences. The start message of climate change-themed 'The Flood' alternates from hope to despair, as McGillivray's poignant vocals blend into Burke's gentle acoustic guitar. The upbeat 'Come Up Smiling' offers a lightweight reggae backbeat before 'Havana Blues' gets the hips swaying with its sexy salsa rhythm - a technique repeated on the similarly tasty Latin number, 'Driving In The Rain'.
Throughout the disc, all three artists capture a smoky, lounge-jazz atmosphere despite tackling topics like the pandemic on both 'I Play By The Rules' and 'Too High A Price'. But in essence, Rain is an album devoted to McGillivray's velvet-clad voice combined with hypnotic, rhythmic vibes created by Burke and Nunn whose guitars and percussion respectively are the driving force behind this beautiful album,
Nygel Packett - Folk London - Jan '22
The Fran McGillivray Band are Fran McGillivray (vocals, bass and flute), Mike Burke (guitars, mandola and vocals) and Roger Nunn (drumkit, djembe, percussion and vocals). They are a much-loved part of the south London acoustic blues and folk scene.
Fran and Mike have been playing and recording together since the late 1970s, as a duo and in recent years as a trio with Roger, and as part of So Long Angel and Saints & Sinners. This is their first studio album with Roger for five years.
The music they make is smooth, gentle, easy and polished, while still having plenty of grit and guts. Although they often sing, and have recorded, old standards such as Leadbelly’s Midnight Special, the songs on this album are all their own compositions.
I Want to Hear You Sing and Too High A Price perhaps follow the blues form more closely than the other songs, though the blues is deeply ingrained in all that they do. Mike’s exquisite and intricate guitar weaves around Fran’s grounded bass and rich, earthy vocals. Roger’s percussion is light and feathery, almost subliminal, but it makes the whole thing swing!
The inclusion of flute on some songs creates an atmosphere reminiscent of Bless The Weather-era John Martyn. The flute in Driving In The Rain, for example, gives the song a rich, dusky, nocturnal quality.
Havana Blues is inspired by pre-pandemic travels, Roger’s percussion lending the song a distinct Latin American feel. This is also another song featuring the soothing tones of Fran’s flute. The songwriting is often playful, with some excellent rhyming couplets: “Too high, like a towering crane/Too high, like a turned- up gain” (Too High A Price). This is an album of great riches, well worth the wait.
Fran and Mike, sometimes with Roger, sometimes without, play extensively around London and the south-east. Go and see them!
Nygel Packett January 2022
Alan Cackett - Rain Review
Rain - The Fran McGillivray Band
The Fran McGillivray Band is a tight, inventive trio comprising Fran (vocals, bass guitar, keyboards, flute), long-time partner Mike Burke (guitars, mandola, vocals) and Roger Nunn (drums, percussion, vocals). They came together in 2012, but their musical roots can be traced back to the late 1970s when Fran and Mike were playing folk, roots and blues venues including an appearance at the 1977 Cambridge Folk Festival. In the ensuing years the pair continued to play music in various formats including the urban blues outfit So Long Angel, Saints and Sinners and the Spikedrivers Blues Roots Revue, but mainly as a duo until they got back together with Roger Nunn, the drummer with So Long Angel for the current trio format. Over the years they have released several albums and RAIN is the third album by the Fran McGillivray Band. You could say that they play Americana, roots-rock, blues-rock, country-soul, late-night jazz, or soul-styled r&b and you’d be right on all fronts. Even so, a rhythm-forward and rootsy sense of blues is the common thread throughout, the band striking that perfect spot between overdriven and stripped down. The trio blend it all into a warm-yet-sharp set of well-observed tunes, full of layered harmonies and apt musicianship. The ample, solid production catches the ear and demands curiosity and attention, with its intelligent arrangements full of subtleties.
Opening track, The Flood, serves as a fine introduction to both Fran’s vocals and the band’s sound. Echoes of Bobbie Gentry come floating to the surface in this swirling yet tempered southern gothic epic of the impending doom and destruction if humanity fails to get to grips with climate change. It’s the perfect opening tune, a preview of how every tune on the album will unfold spaciously, letting each song take on its own life in its own time. There’s a reggae vibe going down in the easy-going rhythm of Come Up Smiling. There’s a measured melodic clarity and seamless vocal flow, with tranquil guitar lines and haunting organ way back in the mix to create textures in serene layers. Havana Blues specifically demonstrates Fran’s uncanny ability to transport a listener to restless days wandering across the city’s hot pavement with a lazy and somewhat hazy jazzy feel.
From Cuba they move north to Canada and the shadowy Toronto Nights. The track floats with clarity and serenity and seems to indicate a lighter, tranquil direction for the trio. Then again, the percussive Jump Back is an exuberant rhythmic number that sets feet a-tapping and hips a-swaying. Sultry drums and a languid bass line contrast well with the busily strummed guitar with Fran’s voice bobbing in a roil of acoustic and electric percussive instrumentation. Dressed To Kill opens with an inviting jazzy guitar lick, segueing into a staccato strum that highlights the fluidity of Fran’s vocal creating images of a late-night, dimly-lit cellar jazz-club, enticing the listener to sway gently to the hypnotic track. The grungy, slow burning The Struggle is tempered by Fran’s coolly commanding vocals tied in with an arrangement of woozy guitar licks and dramatic percussion, mimicking the helpless sensation of battling against greed and inequality. Even though the song is inspired by confusion and difficulties the track breaks brightly into an open space that is celebratory, mirroring the overcoming of such struggles.
The songwriting of Fran and Mike is so powerful and the images so striking. The trio have created a melodious sound built around inventive and probing percussion and distinctive and varied guitar work. They have really come into their own with songs that are catchier, riffs that are sharper and vocals as strong as ever on an album that emphasises song over style and succeeds accordingly.
Alan Cackett December 2021
Blues In Britain - Review
This latest release by the band who comprise Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke, alongside Roger Nunn (drums and percussion) is a sure fire winner from the first song through its entire thirteen song set. The key is Fran's quite amazing voice: rich yet gentle, a real voice for the blues for sure. For this latest outing, she adds more of a Latin sound, Caribbean blues if you will. Mike's guitar and Roger's easy rhythms making things flow to perfection, Fran adding bass, keyboards and flute.
This is a classic album by one of the finest trios on the U.K. blues scene today and, from the opening song 'The Flood' (about rain and more rain to come!), Fran's voice brings a soothing peace to any storm. Behind her, Mike brings his rhythms to the fore with some quite beautiful guitar playing, bringing a real new direction to their music, a fresh yet full of the elements. Get that easy rolling feel of a warm Sunday afternoon on 'Play By The River' and the uplifting 'Even When The News Is Bad' with 'Coming Up Smiling' seeing life much as the previous song, with its nice lilting feel. The album is full of so many great new songs, there's so much you could say about each one.
'Havana Blues' takes you to Cuba: Just roll up the carpet, get your partner and gently dance around the lounge to the intoxicating rhythm, before heading north to Canada for 'Toronto Nights'. Between these two is the upbeat 'Jump Back', another grooving dance track, one sure to be a live favourite.
There's also the late night waves of 'Heaven Or Hell', just gently rolling along, before things close with 'I Want To Hear You Sing' - this is a more bluesy song, with Fran's voice finding an echo of Billie Holliday or Bessie Smith. It's not all acoustic as Mike adds a bit of electric to raise things up a notch.
Fran, Mike and Roger have really produced an outstanding album here, one that comes very highly recommended.
"Rain" Review by Neil Mach
“Rain” is the first new studio album in five years from the FRAN MCGILLIVRAY BAND.
This has been time spent absorbing the nuances & spices of their travels and incorporating those elements into their creative work, such as the visceral guitar sounds and instinctive rhythms of ”Havana Blues” and “Driving in the Rain”, or the neon-lit metroplex beats of “Toronto Nights”.
Fran is the bassist and lead vocalist (plus flute and keys) of the trio, and her colourful and expressive voice adds energizing structure to any blues, jazz, or roots melody. Fran plays alongside the exceptional talent of Mike Burke (guitars, mandola, vocals) and Roger Nunn (drums, percussion, vocals). Fran, Mike and Roger have spent many years polishing and texturing their luxurious sounds and perfecting their strikingly naturalistic stage performances.
There are other expressionistic touches on the new album, for instance, within the crafting of their reggae-tinctured “Come Up Smiling” and the contemplative composure of “Heaven or Hell”. There are, of course, declarative notions on the ongoing global pandemic: “I Play by the Rules”, “I Want to Hear You Sing” and “Dressed to Kill”. And the songwriters (all these songs are by McGillivray / Burke, with Nunn also credited on “The Struggle”) broach the double-barrelled threats to our civilization — climate change and corporate greed — in new songs “The Flood” and “The Struggle”.
The opening track “The Flood” is an undulating and ever-deepening listen that seems plagued with regrets and omens. Fran’s voice has an earthy feel and is rich in sensory layers. The softly radiant guitar offers the dispersion of hope in what would otherwise be a song of trembling premonition. The message here is clear: the river is coming… and it will sweep us away with a mighty roar!
Lightening the mood somewhat, “Come Up Smiling” has a cheerful tone and a straightforward, upbeat message. Fran’s voice is accomplished, perceptive, and primed, as if she comes equipped with a sharp-bladed knife but hides it out of sight, under a warm blanket. This reminds us of the output of late 1980s Edie Brickell & New Bohemians.
The jazzy-blues masterpiece “Havana Blues” — with its tropical rhythms and steamy sway — has a sultry feel, but also retains a bittersweet fragility that seems based on the loss, departure and surrender of the moment. Fran’s voice on this number is a mix of caramel-sugar rum & pineapple tang. A heady cocktail!
This is sassy without being vixenish and creamy without being licentious…
A similar hand-scraped ratchet sound is presented on the elegantly expressive “Driving in the Rain” The beguiling and breathy vocal is as meditative as the percussive precipitation is perpetual. This is sassy without being vixenish and creamy without being licentious. It imparts a “come find me” predisposition, with the fragility of “never quite knowing” whether he/she actually will! This is captivating, and the style reminds us of something you would have found on the Diamond Life album by Sade Adu.
“Heaven or Hell” has a luscious resonating motif and fragrant guitar notes. Here, the carbonated accompaniments provide translucency and dimensionality but, of course, the focus will again be on that remarkable voice of double-cream, sweet almond, and lemon zest. Superlative!
Throughout this magnificent album, Fran’s smoky, sensual and truly luminous voice reaches into the personal and emotional substance of each song. And her bluesy soulfulness is always impeccably escorted by Mike & Roger’s exquisite timbre, panache and heartbeat. This is a wonderfully honed and thoroughly honest achievement.
File alongside: Elkie Brooks & Vinegar Joe, So Long Angel
Words: @neilmach 2021 ©