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This latest venture of Fran's takes her music just a little out of the purer blues context we've hitherto been used to from her long-term work in duo partnership with ace fingerstyle guitarist Mike Burke, while retaining the intimate and accessible flavour of her music-making. Let me reassure you, however, that Fran and Mike are still very much together here, it's just that they're joined by percussionist Roger Nunn, thus making the established twosome into a "band" of sorts I guess.
The duo's benchmark tasty quality remains, and even if there's arguably less overt a blues feel at times, the secret to the album's success lies very much in the expert, almost effortless blend of textures and feelings within the gentle, sympathetic musical settings. The predominant feel may be mellow and yet upbeat, but standout moments include the more desolate When A Love Grows Cold, with its delicate Carter-country vibe; this is a masterly creation indeed, as is the laid-back relaxing-jazzy rhythm-driven Going Real Slow. Opener Big Front Seat coasts in on a feisty Bo Diddley riff (and some neat harmonica from guest Alan Glen), while Everybody's Gone is a moody, almost indie-styled slice of melancholia.
All the tracks showcase Fran's signature warm, slightly earthy and authentically expressive vocal work, which displays new shades of deftness that mirror that very quality within the playing (her delicious new rendition of the old-time number Hop High proves a case in point). By any standards, there's not a weak cut, and the album's sequence appears seamless and logical with the covers fitting snugly into the programme alongside the original songs. Robert Johnson's Last Fair Deal isn't done often, but Fran's version reveals it as rather more than a makeweight. Similarly, you might ask whether we need another version of Sittin' On Top Of The World, but on hearing Fran's latest, supremely thoughtful treatment you'll shout an emphatic yes. Sporting an appealingly arty cover design, Some Luck makes for an attractive total package.
David Kidman, September 2013
With a strong following in the blues and roots music scene, the Fran McGillivray Band are an interesting proposition when you take those inspirations into consideration. They are described as a something of a ‘blues’ act, something which by its very nature conjures up sad tales and melancholy.
With this album though, that’s not the case. Many of the tracks here are surprisingly upbeat – acoustic guitars playing major chords, positive melodies – which sometimes takes this closer to folk terroitory than traditional blues.
Album highlight ‘When A Love Grows Cold’ for example is more or less straight folk, featuring fingerpicking and slide guitar beneath the female vocal delivering the relateable message ‘no one can save you when love grows cold’. Even title track ‘Some Luck’, which does draw more heavily on blues tropes, remains upbeat, with a chugging rhythm on percussion which keeps things moving and Fran McGillivray’s vocals staying well within themselves to deliver the smooth melody.
All in all then, this 13 track collection is less blues than you might expect – an almost happy-go-lucky approach seeing that the release has the potential to stand out from its peers by bucking the trend throughout.
Hear Me Raw
Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke first got together to play music back in the late 1970s playing folk and blues venues and appearing at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1977. They have continued performing mainly in a duo format, but for this latest album they have incorporated Roger Nunn (drums and percussion) to flesh out their basic sound of vocals, guitar, bass, mandolin and keyboards. The songs are mainly self-penned, though they do turn in neat revivals of the traditional Hop High and Sitting On Top Of The World. I particularly enjoyed the Appalachian feel of When Love Grows Cold, this is a style of music that years ago would have been called traditional country... now it's likely to be labelled blues. Whatever you want to call it, it's mighty good.
Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke have been playing together since the early 70s, firstly performing as a duo, then in the mid 90s they formed the blues band So Long Angel and during this time the band released two well received albums. A few years ago they reconsidered their future and decided to return to the more accessible duo format; although in more recent times they have enjoyed touring the U.K. as part of The Spikedrivers Roots Revue. The album "Some Luck" is the culmination of about two years work and of the thirteen numbers only three are covers.
I would say that their labour has not been in vain for the musical chemistry of Fran and Mike is a delight to the ears for where Fran's soft, subtle, earthily caressing vocals gently float over her own sturdy bass playing, Mike's rich, atmospheric jazz tinged resonating guitar work merges seamlessly with Fran, especially so on "Big Front Seat," a sweet and ever so slightly salacious tale of a couples drive in the country; the enticingly catchy harmonica and dejembe-led Bo Diddley beat is supplied by Alan Glen and drummer Roger Nunn.
Overall the album has a gentle, warm even cosy laidback feel that can be easily experienced on such numbers as "Candle Burning" where Fran's vocals waft gently over the rolling harmonic that is almost wallowing in the hypnotic and lyrical resonator guitar work. A bluesier mood is created with a thoughtful, slow and mellow version of The Mississippi Sheiks "Sitting On top Of the World." Their compelling guitar and vocal rendition of the old bluegrass number "Hop High" is short and sweet but utterly satisfying.
The more up to date "When A Love Grows Cold" graphically and wittily describes the desolate and isolating feelings of a spurned love, over a jaunty rolling and pickin' guitar. "Going Real Slow," slowburns along with its low bass, riding underneath Fran's smouldering and simmering vocals blending so well with Mike's richly mellow pickin' jazzy guitar tones, together they combine to evoke a smoky late-night club atmosphere. The album tastefully finishes with a short stark rendition of Robert Johnson's "Last Fair Deal Gone Down," Mike's scintillating resonator playing glows and shimmers while Fran sings in a strong, mournful and melancholy fashion.
This is an album full of pleasant surprises and equally interesting variations.
Brian Harman BluesInTheNorthWest.com
"Some Luck" is a beautifully crafted CD from the cover design through to the tracks selected to create a complete and harmonious journey of music that takes us through all the emotional pathways of life. So though not traditional blues it is ensconced in the blues genre with the combination of the lyrics and the glorious finger-picking guitar style of Mike Burke. The opening track 'Big Front Seat', is a jolly summertime fun which makes you want to pack a picnic and get out into the country with its country beat and texture. 'Candle Burning' with its harmonica to the fore the guitar taking back place as Fran's mellow, earthy voice is reflected by the short harmonica bursts creating a bluesy sound that is fresh and suits Fran's vocals this is a complete song and look forward to hearing it live very soon. In the mix are some great standards including 'Sitting on Top of The World', and 'Last Fair Deal' that have been revamped so that they fit as comfortably as a warm pair of shoes into the repertoire of the band. The clever use of subtle percussion that is present throughout the album is found on a lovely slow-moving song 'Going Real Slow' , the percussion sets the pace and Mike and Fran follow the trail they leave creating a quiet, contemplative melody. This is an album that does not rely on clever gimmicks, but is stripped back so that the acoustic qualities of the instruments have centre stage and Fran can be herself and showcase her authentic tuneful voice that takes control of the lyrics and leads the listener into the tale being told. "Some Luck" works as an album and will fit it anyone's collection if they love acoustic simplicity that is easy listening not because it blurs into the background but because it has that laid-back easy feel of country-blues.
If, like me, you're used to seeing the name Fran McGillivray followed by the name Mike Burke, rather than the word Band, then fear not, Mike's signature fingerpicked acoustic guitar resonates through this album as strong as ever, this is more about reflect the additional personnel that have joined them for "Some Luck".
Neil King, Fatea Magazine
Blues is a genre that can be really hard to pin down, it encompasses so many different aspects, I suppose these days, it's as easy to define by attitude and feel as it is by sound. The attitude is very much that heart felt, spiritually tinged sound, one you know that comes from the heart and a life lived, rather than the empty words of a sermon. The setting very much in that folk blues, keep it deceptive simple, mode.
Fran, has one of those voices that it's difficult to define, it's not the most complex voice you're ever going to hear, it doesn't work the scales, it's not a voice that goes in for dynamics, rather more the voice of a storyteller, one that gives emphasis in the right places, lifting words from being just words and into a key component for expressing emotions and events.
"Some Luck" could be described as much a collection of short stories as an album, but it's way more than that, because the music is just so damned sympathetic. The playing and arrangements are strong, it sounds so easy, as though you could pick it up just like that and soon realise that you can't well not straight away, the sign of really top musicians.
There are songs that you can pick up very easily, "When A Love Grows Cold", for example, is a song that you could imagine a bar room choir really getting into, even taking the chorus off into the round.
The main difference between the sound of the band and the duo, is a subtle line in percussion, it enhances that session feel to the album, as though each song was being worked through even as it was being recorded, an intensity between the musicians that got captured on the tape, allowing you to feel that trust and respect. The result is that "Some Luck" is quite some album.
Some Luck is an easy-going blues/country album with rich acoustic tones that are deeply rooted.
David Hirst A3 Music
The heart of the band is Fran McGillivray on vocals and Mike Burke on guitar, those two members of the band have been together playing music since the seventies. And you can tell, they have a real musical connection with each other. Fran has a very subtle, earthy voice that's in the vein of Bonnie Raitt or Rory Block. Fran McGillivray doesn't push her voice and try to emulate the heavier blues singers of yore, she just leans back and stays in the groove, and it works. Regarding Mike Burke's guitar playing; he's also very laid back, and is a great blues player, especially when he plays his resonant guitar, he can really make it sing. His playing is also very JJ Cale and Jazzy. The two lead musicians complement each other so much that they feel like one.
I'm going to give you the album highlights: It opens with 'Big Front Seat' where Fran and Mike quickly establish their mellow county-blues sound with this cool little number. On 'Candle Burning' harmonica comes to the fore complemented by Mike's clean slide guitar. On this number Fran gets into her bluesy roots with some nice vocal work. One the of the highlights of the album is the moving county-folk track 'When A Love Grows Cold' a bitter-sweet melody about the regrets of a wrecked love affair, the memorable lyric is 'bricks fall down ceilings crash', reminding us that one of the core themes of all blues and country is failed love. Son House, one of the blues pioneers said that blues was always about the Love and Pain between a man and woman, and this album definitely taps into that idea. Later comes the title track 'Some Luck' an upbeat, catchy little number the rolls along as if it were on train-tracks. It has a nice groove to it. Also the album includes some nice standards like; 'Sitting On Top Of The World' and 'Last Fair Deal'. What I like about these renditions is that they have been interpreted in a very original and unique way, Fran and Mike have put their stamp on these songs and made them their own, especially 'Sitting On Top Of The World' which has been slowed down in tempo to create a more soulful, blue quality. It really works!
These musicians are the real deal, they are clearly passionate about what they are doing and have deep roots in county-blues and folk. So if you’re looking for something bluesy and soothing with good musicianship this should be for you.
For more information please contact Fran