Donavon Frankenreiter – Start Livin

January 01, 1970



I have a good
friend who considers Donavon Frankenreiter to be the summation of all that is
wrong with music today. So adamant is she that I have a hard time admitting
Frankenreiter is, indeed, one of my favorite guilty pleasures. And then I
listen to his music and think for all in it that might be considered cheesy or clichéd
surfer soft-rock, or overdone Brushfire schmaltz (note: Frankenreiter is no
longer on Brushfire Records, and I happen to like that record label a lot), it
just feels good. Frankenreiter (a pro-surfer turned singer-songwriter) puts me
instantly on island time. He rocks, he sways, he strums a ukulele. He calls to
mind the ’70s and the beach and a cold Modelo Especial with a wedge of lime.


If that’s wrong,
I don’t want to be right.


latest, Start Livin, picks up where
his previous albums, Move By Yourself,
Pass It Around and Glow left off. Positive peace and love
messages, retro grooves, his dusky voice and a hint of salt spray in the
atmosphere. The thing about Frankenreiter is that he’s instantly recognizable
and he pretty much just does his thing. With a Donavon Frankenreiter album, you
know what you’re in for. Still, over the past several albums he’s been trying
to nail down something specific in his style, experimenting with organs and
disco-lite on Move; mariachi horns
and slack key guitar on Pass. Start parts ways from those albums,
trading polished production for a sound that’s stripped down and simple. It’s
Frankenreiter’s soft rasp, first and foremost, and then just a few instruments
selected, it seems, only to embellish the poignancy and raw emotion of the


According to
Frankenreiter’s Facebook page, he “holed up in a Southern California
studio for seven days with his longtime bassist Matt Grundy – and no one
else.” The album bio also says that this is a love letter to
Frankenreiter’s wife. Love has long been one of the musician’s favorite topics
(that, and the importance of being true to oneself), and that, combined with his
over-sized mustache, make him a standout. I mean, who loves their spouse these
days? And writes albums-full of songs to that affect? (The very best example of
this, on Start, is “I Can
Lose,” with its warbling strings, its ambling two step and its heart-on-sleeve
almost-whispered vocal. “is there a place that I can escape to that feels
like our first kiss? Oh, I just wish,” Frankenreiter sings. For fans of
his achingly sweet “Call Me Papa” from his 2004 debut; this is the
2012 equivalent.)


If all of this
makes Start out to be a sappy bummer
of a record, it’s not at all. The album launches with hand claps instead of
drums (hint: no drum kit was used in the making of this record) and the
fast-paced lyrics of the title track. It’s a jittery, upbeat track in which the
vocal asserts, “The difference between what you get is what you give, what
you get out of life depends on how you live.”


moves away from Frankenreiter’s life advice into the romantic stuff. “Just
tell me  ‘Yes, I do,’ cause I can’t go on
without you,” he sings between more hand claps, the plunking of strings
and a pretty female background vocal. It’s all simple, but in the best way.
Un-fussy, breezy, airy.


is more layered, more complex, but the complexity comes from steel guitar, hand
drums and some echoey effects that bring in a spaciousness. The songs opens in
sweeping soundscapes behind Frankenreiter’s warm vocal. “Same
Lullaby” has a cool J.J. Cale kind of amble to it – it’s somewhere between
country blues and funk, driven by a chopsticks-on-the-rim-of-a-margarita-glass
kind of percussion. (Okay, I made up the part about the chopsticks. But
apparently Frankenreiter and Grundy used pots and pans and jars of rice, so I
feel like I’m in the ballpark.)


With the lanky,
breezy opening of “West Coast Fool,” Frankenreiter proves that what
is always best about his albums is him. His voice, his laid-back sense of
rhythm, his effortless bell bottoms-and-fedora brand of cool. But, of course,
this is what Start is all about. The
nine tracks are all stylistically and thematically similar. They set a mood;
they remind us of some better part of ourselves – our vacation selves. The
selves that take time, enjoy the day, watch the sunset, treat those around us
with kindness.


The album wraps
with “Together Forever,” a slow dance where homesickness is
juxtaposed with joy. Palpable longing gives the song a substance that was
sometimes lacking from 2010’s fluffier, smoother, more
made-for-corporate-sponsorship Glow.
“It’s been ten years on the run. Two kids and an island in the sun,”
Frankenreiter sings, suggesting that the life of a touring musician takes away
from his other life, his real life as a husband and dad. But then again, he
keeps steadfastly making albums, and they’re always true to who Frankenreiter
is, both as a performer and as a person.


DOWNLOAD: “Shine,” “”Same
Lullaby” and “West Coast Fool.” ALLI MARSHALL




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