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Billboard, August 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

Denice Franke writes vivid, compelling musical short stories that adeptly blend empathy and danger on this third album. Many of the songs are set in Galveston, the Texas singer/songwriter's adopted home. Franke's detailing can be as specific as "Harley Girl," a refreshingly tender appreciation of a biker woman and her guy. "Tara Lee" has you walking in the heels of a woman driven by her needs and desires, in search of a generous stranger while lamenting the tender roughneck missing from her life. Franke knows what conflicts sink some of these men: In "Cool Water," self-knowledge and self-destruction grapple with predictable but artfully rendered results. Her lithe, mesmerizing voice and acoustic guitar are at the heart of each track, and Mark Hallman's sympathetic production advances each song with bent electric guitar notes, percussion jabs or keyboard sounds.
(Wayne Robins)

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Vintage Guitar, October 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

Texas songwriter Denice Franke's third solo disc sounds as though its inspiration could have come from nowhere but that mystical area the title references, where cowboy country meets the ocean; where "big" gives way to the unfathomably immense and creative thoughts are reduced, but not lessened, to an elemental uncomplicated naturalness.

Franke's straightforward approach to songwriting and singing is so appealing for its own sake that the what – her acoustic guitar playing, her lyrical narrative and her womanly alto – is almost secondary to the how. Like a cool glass of spring water, Franke's homespun music needs no artificial color or flavor; not that the well-fitted backing she receives, notably from guitarists Robert McEntee and Mark Hallman (who also plays bass, Hammond B3 and, occasionally, drums) is gild on the lily. The band gives able support, even adding to the eloquent sparseness of the disc's atmosphere. But Franke has things covered. As musician, writer, and singer, she can stand with the best with no more than her own guitar and her original country-tinged folk songs to depend on. When she sings "Oh, to be a sting of pearls around your neck" she describes her work; everything besides voice, guitar, and song serves to highlight – not misdirect or disguisse. Appropriately the quote comes from a song called "Elegance". Earlier on the disc, in "Seminole Girl" Franke sings, "She ain't no fool, boy", there is definitely no doubt about that.
(Rick Allen)

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Maverick Review, March 2009

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

A grower of a record with lyrically strong songs

When Denice Franke, with two albums to her credit, both produced by Eric Taylor, relocated to Galveston, she experienced a new surge of inspiration to write about a gallery of people she encountered in and around the Gulf Coast. Her latest album, this time produced by Mark Hallman, who has worked closely with the likes of Carole King and Eliza Gilkyson, paints totally credible thumbnail sketches of some of these characters. There's the story of a lonely recluse who once carried out an heroic deed, a carefree Harley girl, sketches of a dreamer and a druggie in a shabby motel, watched by someone who knows how to keep secrets, a beautiful Seminole girl with a mind of her own, winners and losers and finally, the grim tale of a young man on the run for loving the wrong girl. These are wholly absorbing sketches, lyrically unpredictable because they unfold more in the form of a narrative than a poem which rhymes and they boast of some unusual turns of phrase and arresting imagery. Although the album opens with two tracks featuring electric guitars, a Hammond B3 organ, bass and Stratocaster, it is Franke's cleanly played acoustic guitar which underpins the remaining tracks, often with little more than piano and acoustic bass. Her voice is sultry at times, a little husky with a hint of blues but well suited to her material all of which she has written herself. Her deepest roots lie in contemporary folk although there are offshoots of soft-rock and blues but the blend works well.

For quite a long time now, Franke has toured and recorded with notable acts like Hal Ketchum, Eric Taylor and Nanci Griffith. She has played to audiences in large auditoriums, in smoky bars, coffeehouses and just about any place where people will gather to listen to her. Certainly worth a mention is the fact that on Seminole Girl she is joined by Eliza Gilkyson whose backing vocals add a lot to the delivery. This is not an album where the listener is given much opportunity to sing along on the choruses, nor indeed does it offer much scope to kick off one's shoes and dance! It demands one's undivided attention and really needs to be listened to a couple or three times at least in order to fully absorb the beauty of the lyrics and become fully attuned to Franke's distinctive voice.
(Larry Kelly)

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Sing Out! Autumn 2008


Denice Franke is a Texas songwriter unlike any other. For one thing, she lives in Galveston, an East Texas shore town that, since the famous flood that devastated it at the beginning of the last century, is more of a vacation destination than any kind of a cultural mecca. "I just came down here and started hanging and walking the beach," she recalled, "working on songs and not thinking about the business. During the off-season there's nobody there except for snowbirds trying to avoid the blizzards. I'd lived in Houston for about 20 years, and liked living there - and I am more of a big city girl at heart - but I absolutely fell in love with Galveston. I came here to live my life."

Getting to Galveston to a circuitous route. From the central Texas town of San Marcos, on the outskirts of the state's proper and acknowledged musical capital Austin, where she played every Sunday at the historic Gruene Hall with the Beacon City Band and, later, as a duo with her musical partner Doug Hudson…to her move to Austin, and meeting and eventually touring with Nanci Griffith (as singers and opening act). It wasn't until Franke returned to Texas to concentrate on her solo work that she settled in Houston.

Performing for more than two decades, Franke isn't the most prolific of songwriters. Her new album Gulf Coast Blue is just her third solo album to date (following 1997's You Don't Know Me and 2001's Comfort that added to the single vinyl release by the Beacon City Band). "My process has always been long and grueling. The writing never really comes easily. I've had moments when a song would come really quickly, and that's a real high. Usually I have to spend a lot of time building the song. Melodies come first, but lyrics, the real meat of songs, are something I spend a lot of time with."

Franke's songwriting on Gulf Coast Blue has taken a remarkable leap in terms of context and approach. She has always seen herself as "kind of a ballad girl with a guitar, writing a lot of confessional style and love songs. On this record the difference was that I wanted to create portraits…postcards of people who live along the Gulf Coast, not just Houston but also Mississippi and Louisiana.

"Much of my approach to songwriting was like an artist with a sketchbook," she says. "I had these sketches of the characters I was messing with: some of them real briefly, some I spent a lot of time with. It felt really close to an actor's process of trying to get into character. A lot of times I didn't know who they really were. The more I kept showing up at the table they would reveal a little bit more and it was difficult to be patient. This was the first time I really experienced that in songs where I would get to know the characters. People assume you know them and a lot of times you don't. A lot of times the character my seem to have a lot of you in them, but when you break it down they have nothing to do with you."

Some of this new way of thinking about songs surely comes from the 2002 Texas Song Theatre which Eric Taylor, producer of Franke's first two solo projects, devised as a theatrical piece of song and spoken word featuring Taylor, Franke and David Olney. Taylor and Olney are among the most literary of songwriters working today, and Franke says working closely with them expanded her palette both as performer and writer.

The deceptively simple "Elegance" is one Franke feels especially personally. It is inspired by Franke's mother Grace, still going strong at 84, and "the women of her time, the '40s and '50s, and the accessories and the care they took in presenting themselves even going to the grocery store. I was nothing like that. I was rough and tumble, and wanted to play in the dirt. I had no desire to be a 'girly girl.' As a young girl who always felt like an ugly duckling, I was awkward…I wasn't one of the popular, pretty girls you'd fantasize about what it would feel like one day to be that person…so beautiful and graceful, moving through a room so elegantly. Not that these women were adored just because of their outward beauty, their personality was also radiant. Jackie Kennedy was that kind of woman. I remember going through photographs of my mother [as a young woman] …she could have been a movie star. So many in my generation - even 10 years younger - have the same feelings about their mothers."

Denice Franke's song art has turned that kind of beauty from internal to external, evolving from confession to observation and the limning of others totally fictional…some you know and like, others you'd never want to. Some of the stories are pretty, others anything but. But that's life, isn't it?
(Michael Tearson)

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Dirty Linen Magazine, Dec 2008/Jan/Feb 2009

Denice Franke - captures seven hounds

The former partner of Doug Hudson in 1970s folk-rock band the Beacon City Boys and the 1980s duo Hudson and Franke, Denice Franke's harmonies can be heard on recordings by Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and Hal Ketchum. Seven years after releasing the second of a pair of albums produced by Eric Taylor, the Dallas-born singer/songwriter comes into her own with her third solo effort, Gulf Coast Blue. Inspired by Franke's move to Galveston, Texas, after lengthy periods in Austin, San Marcos, and Houston, the album was produced by Mark Hallman (Carole King, Eliza Gilkyson) and musically captures the characters and life along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Franke's song are framed in a variety of settings, with the acoustic guitar sparseness of "Elegance" and the piano-and-djembe simplicity of "Weather Is Fine" balanced by the organ, bass, and electric guitar of "Gibraltar" and "Cool Water" and the swampy slide guitar of "Hounds."
(Craig Harris)

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Texas Music Magazine, October 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

As part of Houston's second wave of singer songwriters along side Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, and Eric Taylor, Denice Franke remains both the least known and least recorded. Texans who follow the folk scene know her for her solo work and as half of the duo Hudson and Franke, but Gulf Coast Blue is only her third album, and her first release in seven years. It was well worth the wait. Due credit for its solid footing goes to Austin producer Mark Hallman, whose recent string of magnificent recordings with Eliza Gilkyson prove him both a highly sympathetic ear to the female voice and musical vision and a gifted creator of a modern adult sound that makes Franke's classicist folk foundation feel contemporary, yet timeless. Those talents bring a dramatic swirl to her tale of a "Harley Girl," help "Elegance" live up to its title and imbue "Hounds" with Southern gothic intimations of tension that might not have otherwise been there due to the formal clarity of Franke's voice. Gulf Coast Blue makes a good case for Franke's stature in Texas Folk circles that should help bring her wider --- and overdue --- recognition.
(Rob Patterson)

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FAME, October 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

Denice Franke is one of my favorite singers. On the one hand you want to take her songs along with you on a long drive, crank up the volume, and get lost in that leather and lace voice. On the other hand, you want to have some quiet time to listen—to really listen—to the lyrics that spell out stories of the people she knows and loves, living in her corner of the Texas Gulf Coast.

Gulf Coast Blue is Franke's third studio recording. It moves her way beyond the promise of her earlier work, and into new and interesting musical territory. The opening tune, Gibraltar" tells a haunting tale of a man who died. No one takes much notice of his passing, except to remember the day that he saved a child who had fallen into a well. Franke wraps her smoky voice around compelling lyrics about a life lived in shadow—forever a mystery. Her backup band is first rate: Andre Moran on electric guitar, Mark Hallman, who doubles as producer on bass, Hammond B3 organ and Stratocaster, and Rick Richards on drums.

Sadness never sounded as good as it does in Weather is Fine, with its pared down production and Franke's simply lovely work on acoustic guitar.

Sergio's Watching is a standout. It's got Franke caressing each and every word with the soft and tender side of her vocal range. She also picks out notes and chords on her guitar that make you take notice of how truly musical she is.

Franke's guitar, engaging vocals, and the sweet sounds of Eliza Gilkyson make Seminole Girl a song that is easy to listen to and hard to forget. It tells the story of the difficult life of a Native American woman who rises above her circumstances to persevere.

I like the gentle blues of Brand New Sky, the quiet intensity of Tara Lee, and the sweet tenderness of Elegance.

The recording ends with Hounds, a powerful story of love crossing the color line, and the tragic brand of justice doled out as a result.

In Gulf Coast Blue, Denice Franke has given us a recording full of memorable tales that read like great fiction and play like some of the best music on the acoustic scene today. It has been seven long years between Franke's last outing, Comfort, and this one. I would hate to wait another seven years for Franke's next production, but if it is going to be as brilliant as this collection, find me a rocker and I will cool my heels. Gulf Coast Blue is one of the best recordings of the year.
(Roberta B. Schwartz)

Back to List, September 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

A husband's suicide following a son's drowning is recalled in language so clinical it's chilling, a woman trying to maintain a safe distance from the horror while pleading in a tremulous voice for a moment of clarity ("shine some light/shine some light over here...") over a dark, relentless rhythm and a wailing guitar. That's "Gibraltar," our introduction to Denice Franke on her stirring third album, Gulf Coast Blue. Inspired by the current of life and characters in her native Galveston, TX, Gulf Coast Blue is as unerring in its sense of place as it is colorful and piercing in its depictions of the forces tugging at people making their way across landscapes measured both in literal and metaphysical miles. Singing in a husky, smoky voice that has some of the color of Joni Mitchell's and a lot of the sultriness of Bobbie Gentry's, Franke brings her original songs to vivid life with the help of producer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Hallman; together they sculpt intriguing sonic backdrops for the artist's taut tales following a less-is-more pattern of employing a few well-chosen instruments to add compelling textures to what are essentially short stories disguised as folk and blues ballads.

Ever wonder what a lineman sees from his lofty perch? Check out the informal surveillance documented in "Sergio's Watching," and you'll be anxious for the wireless world to be upon us so you can primp, romance and/or shoot up in the privacy of your home. Into a deliberate, pulsing acoustic ambiance, Bob Meyer injects haunting trumpet lines, showing up just enough to heighten the paranoia Franke's dramatic vocal suggests. Similarly, Hallman's use of rebana and Hopi shakers in "Seminole Girl" summons the unquenchable spirit of the women chronicled in the narrative, raising children alone without apology or self-pity, refusing to lean on dissolute men, making a life against great odds, prompting Franke to observe, "There's a lot to say about a woman who's strong/she takes charge/she needs no man to appraise her." In the less is considerably more category, the tender, striking love song, "Elegance (For Grace)," is all quiet beauty, Franke deeply immersed in her all-consuming love for another woman, not merely wanting to be with her but to become part of her very being ("oh to be the nylons you stretch across your legs/to be the Spanish heels that raise you off the floor/to be the laughing motion/when you break into dance..."). Rather than heated, these longings burn discreetly beneath a cool surface, with Franke's sensitive vocal framed only by her gently strummed acoustic guitar and Hallman's subtle fingerpicking of a nylon string guitar. No matter how thick the Gulf air in Galveston, it can't hide stories like these from knowing observers such as Denice Franke. Her surname is entirely appropriate, because she pulls no punches in documenting the sordid and celebrating the exalted she's found on her home turf. Galveston. Who knew?
(David McGee)

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Blogger News, August 2008

Denice Franke will introduce you to a range of characters as you listen to the eleven songs on Gulf Coast Blue. There’s an elegant one, and several who’ve been crushed and wounded by circumstance, and taken that in different ways, some who are celebrating, at least one who’s watching. In Franke’s stories, they come alive in just a few moments — a few moments, it seems by her storytelling, that are vivid snapshots from lives that have existed before and go on after the life of the song.

The Gulf Coast has its own unique flavor and speech and rhythm, and that’s part and parcel of what goes on here too. Franke knows the backroads and the highways of a musician’s life, having toured with the likes of Nanci Griffith and Eric Taylor, bar tended and traveled, recorded two well received albums, and been part of the musical life of Austin, San Marcos, and Houston. Not long ago she took all these experiences with her and moved to the Gulf Coast town of Galveston, and found the spark for a new album. “A lot of the characters in these songs, their lives are associated with the gulf and the water and those surroundings, and the gulf coast ties them all in,” Franke says. “It’s a collage of different folks who present themselves.” Franke knows how to tell their stories, in a husky and immediately recognizable voice. This time out, that voice is framed in melodies that are just a bit bluer than her earlier work, and in the ever shifting world that is life along the Gulf of Mexico. Mark Hallman, who’s also worked with top singer and songwriter Eliza Gilkyson, produced the project, leaving just the right amount of space for Franke’s voice and ideas.
(Kerry Dexter)

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Texas Music Times, August 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

I have to admit to being initially underwhelmed by this record as I tried to cram a quick scan-through into my all-too-busy schedule. Then I hit track 8, "Tara Lee," which was so brilliant I was forced to go back and reevaluate my attitude toward Gulf Coast Blue. As I listened again (and again and again), I recognized the depth of the songwriting and the heartfelt soulfulness of Franke's vocal performances, and I realized this album is pretty special. (Steve Circeo)

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The Gazz, Charleston Gazette, August 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

Switching gears from her singer/songwriter days (her first two releases were produced by Texas singer/songwriter Eric Taylor), Texan Denice Franke — who toured and recorded with Taylor and his ex-wife Nanci Griffith — has come up with a rich collection of songs that are brought to life by a band that’s so in sync they sound like they’ve been on the road for years.

Gibraltar” has a solid, easy rock groove, and Franke’s voice is wonderfully comfortable and confident. Andre Moron’s Knopfler-esque guitar fills complement her vocals perfectly. Together with the grand chord changes, it makes for something of a kinder, gentler Patti Smith.

“Weather is Fine” returns Franke to her roots with just vocals, acoustic guitar, piano and djembe while “Elegance,” with just voice and two acoustics, serves as a reminder that Franke fares just fine on her own.

The chorus of “Sergio’s Watching” is set off with trumpets that take Franke even deeper into her new, intriguing persona. Elsewhere, Franke explores a number of styles — the percussive acoustic of “Seminole Girl,” the driving, modal drone of “Cool Water” and the swampy, slide-guitar textured “Hounds.”

Don’t let bad artwork and a misleading title (it ain’t blues) scare you off; this is great stuff. (Michael Lipton)

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Austin Chronicle, Texas Platters, Girlie Action, August 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

Denice Franke's Gulf Coast Blue (Certain) comes by comparisons to Eliza Gilkyson and Nanci Griffith honestly. Mark Hallman, the man behind Gilkyson's stellar recordings, produced this CD, and Franke sang backup for Griffith, as well as Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. Her tenure as one-half of the folk duo Hudson & Franke polished her songwriting to a high gloss, reflected beautifully in Blue. With heavyweight help from the likes of Gilkyson, Rick Richards, Spencer Starnes, and Robert McEntee, Franke's voice is dusty-sultry, and her songs of life on Galveston Island ring as bright as the sun rising over the Gulf of Mexico.
(Margaret Moser)

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3rd Coast Music, September 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

Putting Franke in context involves invoking Texas singer-songwriters, most obviously Eric Taylor, who are, to put it mildly, rather better known, but that seemed to be OK with Franke, who, after making the contraflow move from Austin to Houston, wrote, “No one here knows me, it’s nice to be alone” (Lowlands). Originally from Dallas, Franke entered the Texas music scene while a student in San Marcos, joining the Beacon City Band in 1981, then had something of a boom period with bandmate Doug Hudson as Hudson & Franke, playing Saturday nights at Cactus Cafe and Anderson Fair, which was pretty much as good as it got for Texas folkies. When the duo broke up in the early 90s, she made the move to Houston, working as a singing bartender, or bartending singer, until Taylor persuaded her to cut You Don’t Know Me (DénICE gIRL, 1997), followed by Comfort (Certain, 2001), both of which he produced. However, Franke seems to have decided that it’s time to make her presence rather better known, going to producer Mark Hallman, who also plays bass, B3, electric and nylon string guitar, bouzouki, piano, but keeps it simple and sympathetic. There are never more than three other musicians on any of Franke’s eleven “portraits and postcards” of her latest home, Galveston. The emphasis is firmly on some remarkable songwriting, peaking with the quite extraordinary Tara Lee, Franke’s rich, smoky contralto and her acoustic guitar. As she’s also hired a good publicist, I find myself in the unusual position of not only reviewing an album that’s been praised in Billboard (I’m not saying that’s a disqualifier, it just doesn’t happen very often), but being on the same page.
(John Conquest)

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New Times Broward/Palm Beach, August 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

Although it begins with an affable embrace, Gulf Coast Blues ambles toward darker terrain as it winds on, with songs that spin a sinewy, seductive tapestry of blues, folk, gospel, and country. Now settled on Texas' Gulf Coast, Franke builds her narratives around a cast of characters that inhabit the state's outer environs, driving songs like "Elegance" and "Moments" with a slap and strum guitar style that brings to mind early Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, and Tracy Chapman. Soothing and seductive, honest and intriguing, Franke's third album is easily her most impressive effort yet.
(Lee Zimmerman)

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Nashville City News, September 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

Denice Franke smoothly moves from sophisticated statements to agonizing treatments on her third disc, mixing elements of folk, blues and country into a tight and stirring style.

Some numbers like “Seminole Girl,” “Moments” or “Harley Girl” explore issues of identity or signify independence, while others like “Weather is Fine” or “Cool Water” seem more lyrically open-ended, allowing her to take them in multiple vocal directions and surprise listeners with vocal twists or lyrical flourishes.

Sometimes Franke’s acoustic guitar underpinning and Mark Hallman’s (who doubles as producer) supportive playing on multiple instruments intersect and mesh, while on other occasions the backing gets expanded to include horns, percussion and bass.

But whether singing in a sparse or extensive setting, Franke’s mellow, intense vocals prove both delightful and compelling on Gulf Coast Blue.
(Ron Wynn)

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Toledo Blade, August 2008

Gulf Coast Blue Denice Franke (Certain Records)

The tunes of singer/songwriter Franke blur the boundaries of folk, blues and pop. The music is first-rate and the melodies are interesting, but it's the lyrics and delivery that set these 11 numbers apart from the crowd.

Like an anthology of short stories, the songs tell of real people, warts and all. They paint portraits that come to life behind Franke's vocals and a tidy group of background instrumentalists.

There's something unique about Franke's voice that breathes life into these vignettes of humanity. Her almost deadpan and easy vocals help make each track something special. There are no studio gimmicks for emphasis, just a steady and captivating manner of singing that makes her a topnotch and potent storyteller.
(Ken Rosenbaum)

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FolkWax, August 2008

Denice Franke - Gulf Coast Blue

From Down The Gulf
Gulf Coast Blue was recorded at Congress House Studio in South Austin and produced by studio owner Mark Hallman (Hammond B3, piano, bass, guitars (electric and acoustic), bouzouki, harmonica, tambourine, drums, percussion, background vocals). The support musicians include locals Rick Richards (drums), Robert McEntee (guitar), Spencer Starnes (upright bass), Bob Meyer (trumpet), and Andre Moran (guitar).

Seven years have elapsed since Franke's last solo outing, Comfort, her sophomore solo CD and the second consecutive album to be produced by the estimable Eric Taylor. It was recorded at Rock Romano's Red Shack in Houston. The clock ticks religiously, things change, and time passes...

The title of the opening cut is "Gibralter." At the entry to the Mediterranean Sea, attached to the Spanish mainland, you'll find Gibralter - a chunk of rock that Britain has occupied for nearly three centuries. In the opening lines Franke sketches the scenario that "The walls have crumbled/His Gibralter/Crushed what was left of him" and as the storyline unfolds we learn of his demise, after 'she' (for 'she' read "his rock") deserts him. The "Harley Girl" rides "Her arms around her daddy" from Arkansas to the Gulf Coast for some music 'n' cool sea breezes, and while Franke alludes to the warmth and beauty of "...the sun spilling out on the costal plains" she also cautions about the environmental hazard of "a fire in the Juarez sky."

Richards' hand drum (a djembe), Hallman's piano, and Franke's loping finger-picked guitar rhythm create the backdrop for "Weather Is Fine," wherein the narrator employs poetic references to climate and the planets as she airs numerous relationship issues. Meyer's trumpets (yes, the liner states the plural) add a Latin flavour to "Sergio's Watching," the tale of an observant lineman, while Franke moves a little further north for the Native American-themed "Seminole Girl." The latter features Eliza Gilkyson on background vocals and Hallman on rebana (hand drum) and hopi shakers. In the opening line of "Brand New Sky (Sweet Magnolia)" Franke paraphrases a well known child's lullaby - "Hush little baby, don't you cry" - and the word "mockingbird" features in the closing bridge - following which the road weary narrator faithfully promises that "...daddy's gonna take you there."

The narrator in "Tara Lee" ("her man ain't come around in a long time") works the night shift on Houston's Jensen Street. In term of the sonically unusual, on the latter cut Hallman plays a bendir (a North African frame drum). Employing sensually worded dreamscapes that ache for personal contact, in the liner booklet the "Elegance" lyric bears the credit "for Grace." Magnolia's are mention once again in the penultimate cut "Moments," while the edgy closer "Hounds" focuses on a doomed mixed-race relationship. (Arthur Wood)

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Performing Songwriter, March/April 2002

Maybe it’s the water, but there’s something about Texas that seems to have given rise to a number of outstanding singer-songwriters over the years—from Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and Townes Van Zandt to Robert Earl Keen, Nanci Griffith, Iris DeMent, Lyle Lovett and Pat Green. Well you can now add to that ever-expanding list Dallas-born Denice Franke. In just a few short years as a solo artist, Denice, who now calls Houston home, has been mesmerizing audiences across the United States and Europe with her honest, heartfelt observations on indifference, lonely nights, and relationships gone south. Her latest release, Comfort, is a brilliantly understated, minor-key-inflected, auditory treat that showcases not only her masterful storytelling---which is delivered in a rich, warm alto---but also her commanding acoustic guitar work.

Denice's musical journey actually began when she was growing up in Dallas. Her father, who sang in a local Lutheran church choir, gave her a baritone ukulele as a Christmas present one year. After getting the hang of the instrument, she gravitated to the guitar and began writing and performing when she was a junior in high school. After graduating from high school, Denice continued performing as a solo artist while attending college in San Marcos. It was at a gig at a local hamburger joint that she caught the attention of guitarist David Wright, who asked her to join his band, the Beacon City Boys. Denice accepted, and the group changed its name to the Beacon City Band. The BCB cranked out a couple of records and performed extensively during the late 70's, garnering quite a strong following, particularly in the Southwest.

Within a couple of years, Denice and fellow band mate Doug Hudson split from the group and formed a popular duo called Hudson and Franke, which recorded and toured for about 12 years. During her time off, Denice would perform background vocals for country-folk luminaries Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen and Hal Ketchum. In 1987, she moved to Houston and started hanging out and performing with singer-songwriter-guitarist Eric Taylor. Then in the early '90s, Denice decided it was time for a break from the music scene, and she took a job as a bartender. "It was one of the best things that ever happened to me," she says of her career switch. "I not only learned a new skill, but the experience helped pull me out of my shell."

With some heavy coaxing from friend Eric Taylor, Denice returned to the music fold in 1997 with a warm, richly textured acoustic gem of a CD called You Don't Know Me. Produced by Taylor, the record caught critics' and fans ears, and subsequently established Denice as a performing songwriter who showed genuine promise and potential. That promise and potential reached full fruition and exploded in 2001 with the release of the Taylor-produced Comfort---a tour de force of tight and variegated ensemble playing, passionate singing, emotionally stirring lyrics, and haunting, catchy melodies.

"I tend to be a spontaneous writer, but that's changing somewhat," Denice says of her songwriting process. "If you depend on spontaneity and inspiration too much, you can come up empty. You have to dig deeper. I don't put pressure on myself, but I do make myself stay in my chair until I'm at least at a place where a song is pretty much there. I used to do the verse-chorus thing---where I'd accumulate just slivers---and then stop. But I'd go nuts because I'd sense the potential, and then I'd drop the ball. I should have just kept going."

"Space inspires me," she continues. "The dynamics of life do, too. I look at my songs as snapshots or portraits. With my song, you walk in a room and look at the dynamics between two people. Melody always comes first, too, and the guitar is instrumental in writing the melody. It gets the creative juices flowing."

Denice's guitar of choice when composing and performing is a Collings OM that features a Martin Thinliner and L.R. Baggs Para-Acoustic pickup system. In the string department, she favors light gauge Elixirs.

When asked how it feels to be an independent artist, Denice says the freedom it affords her is wonderful, but she also points out that it's important to focus on the business side of things, too, including coming up with a marketing strategy. Her advice to aspiring singer-songwriters is pretty straightforward. "Do it for the love, because that's what's going to sustain you," she notes. "If you're driven by what you're doing, then go for it. But, be willing to sacrifice a lot. Perseverance is extremely important. It's a lesson I'm constantly learning. But what really juices me is just showing up for work every day. It doesn't get much better than when it's just me and my guitar and my notebook at the kitchen table, and then filling up that blank page with words and music." (Rick Petreycik)

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Music Reviews Quarterly

From the darker side of folk, much like the turf producer and player Eric Taylor defends, comes Denice Franke. This acoustic recording offers the Comfort of been-there, felt-that sympathy. As Franke delivers the David Olney-composed opening cut, she sings with utter conviction: "You need a little bit of poison/ To keep you strong." It's a message she bears out without flinching throughout Comfort.

With her deep, full voice and slow, measure tempos, Denice Franke sings of blunt, honest observations set to often beautiful acoustic treatments that linger on the minor keys of the heart's concerns. Neither Franke's voice, songs, nor accompaniments are morose, just gravel-bottomed even when the sound on the surface is shimmering with softer glows. Nor is there self pity here. Franke simply looks at the tougher aspects of life - indifference, failed love, dark nights - and treats them with the grace of reality. In touch with that reality is a production which delivers each instrument in clear dignity, uncluttered even when the instrumentation takes on its most full-bodied approach. Franke and producer Taylor regularly employ piano, sax, and cello to fill out an acoustic guitar and voice centered sound, but partly because of the slow tempos adn the earthbound nature of the songs themselves, each instrument gets to work quietly and effectively as it is needed. Franke is a solid acoustic guitarist and handles most of the guitar chores on her own, getting some help from time to time from Eric Taylor's deft, tasteful acoustic guitar work. All of the players and singers here are accomplished performers, and they blessedly show no need to show off. The feeling of a song gets held throughout, whether it is simply being maintained by an acoustic guitar or a piano/mandolin/sax combination. Denice Franke has been smart enough to surround herself with some excellent musicians from the Austin area. Tommy Elskes, a superb guitarist, comes along only to provide backing vocals, a task which the huskiness of his voice handles well when matched with Franke's. Keyboardist Mike Sumler and drummer James Gilmer provide steady, tasteful support, and on the songs where Eric Demmer provides sax work and John Hagen provides cello, the integration of the sounds is seamless. Enough cannot be said for how skillfully producer Eric Taylor works things here. He put a smooth, consistent, subtle touch to Comfort's sound, and at every point his decisions prove to be wise ones. For her part, Denice Franke has a spirit comfortably similar to Taylor's. She centers her work on folk constructions and gives it an unvarnished realism. What makes Franke's work different from her contemporaries like Gillian Welch or Lucinda Williams is the subtler touch it has. Franke isn't trying for an ear-grabbing sound with a toughness built into it; instead she uses a more traditional folk approach and builds the toughness into the wordings. More like David Olney, she is a folk performer with a penchant for the darker side of human emotions, and to her credit she handles it well. Not many performers have the ability to look at the dark side and find it beautiful, but Franke does. That is her Comfort.

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Rhythms - Australia's Roots Music Monthly, October 2001

2001 is a big year for Texas singer/songwriter Denice Franke - opening for Janis Ian, John Hammond, Cris Williamson, Steve Forbert, John Gorka and Chris Smither, as well as releasing her third solo album, Comfort.

With her rich, expressive voice and pop/folk/country/blues sound, Franke is at times reminiscent of the fine Canadian performer Lynn Miles (who has a new album - Unravel). Franke's songs focus on the complexities of interpersonal relationships, with the evocative lyrics telling of hurt, hope, confusion and the ongoing quest for comfort. There are also songs from David Olney ('Little Bit of Poison') and Vince Bell ('100 Miles From Mexico').

The album's producer, Eric Taylor, uses acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar, bass, cello, violin, saxophone (Eric Demmer), piano, organ, drums and percussion to provide an interesting (and almost stand-alone) instrumental accompaniment. And vocal support is provided by Taylor and Tommy Elskes.

Denice Franke's Comfort is both haunting and very good listening. --- (Sue Barrett)

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Rambles - A Cultural Art Magazine, September 22, 2001

I like the sound of Denice Franke's second solo CD, Comfort. The album comprises nine originals, two covers and a short instrumental used as an intro to the final song. The lyrics are meaningful and, in more than one case, I felt I could relate the words to my own life. In addition, Denice's rich alto adds an emotional touch to the many ballads presented here. She knows how to connect with her audience.

Denice has roots in Dallas, but calls Houston home. While you can certainly hear her Texas heritage throughout her music, Denice's appeal is sure to range beyond the South. In fact, many potential fans who are unfamiliar with her name, are probably familiar with her vocals. According to the promotional materials, she has sung with "Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Tom Russell, John Gorka, Eric Taylor and others."

A good voice is only part of the equation. A very talented set of musicians has come together to contribute their skills on Comfort. Denice plays acoustic guitar. Eric Taylor also plays acoustic guitar as well as bass and provides some harmony vocals. Mike Sumler takes care of the organ and piano. James Gilmer plays drums and percussion. John Hagen is a very talented cello player. Gene Elders is just as competent on the violin. Eric Demmer plays saxophone. Tommy Elskes provides backing vocals. And Craig Holden knows his way around the pedal steel guitar.

I must warn listeners that the CD starts off with the weakest two selections. It took several listens for me to warm up to the cover of "Little Bit of Poison" and the Franke original "Personally." I am not saying these are bad songs, but they pale in comparison to the rest of the CD.

The third song, "Kindred Skin," is what really drew me into Denice's world. The song is about two strangers who have just met, yet seem right for each other. It doesn't hurt that I am a sucker for the cello (or any instrument from the violin family). Add in the piano and you have a very beautiful song indeed!

"Hard Comin' Home" has a similar feel, musically, with the mix of piano and violin this time. The tempo is a little faster and the topic now focuses on an individual with a ramblin' spirit. My favorite ballad, "Let Me Go," showcases the cello again (this time without the accompaniment of a piano). The ending of a relationship is something almost everyone has experienced, so this is probably a song most can relate to. These three pieces portray Denice at her best on Comfort.

I am drawn to the emotional depth of "Morning Glories." This song deals with the feelings of loneliness Denice feels when her love leaves her alone in their home. She knows he will return, but.... The acoustic guitar riff is a simple, yet catchy hook that grabbed me almost immediately.

The final song on the CD, "Dance To the Moon," is very reminiscent of Mary Chapin Carpenter. In fact, if I had not just heard 10 previous selections where Denice's voice is quite distinct, I might have thought I was hearing a new release from MCC. I do consider Mary more country, however, while Denice is definitely more folk.

Denice has written some excellent material on this CD. She is a talented singer, writer and guitar player. The artists that back her up on Comfort only add to the CD. This is a mellow folk CD with perhaps a hint of blues every once in a while. If you like this genre of music, then I recommend you find yourself a little spot of Comfort and sit down for a listen. --- (Wil Owen )

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Country Music International, September Issue 2001

Texas singer songwriter Denice Franke's second album brings on board Eric Taylor as producer, resulting in more laid back, simple arrangements that allow the sensitive lyrics to breathe. "Indifference", with its gripping lyric and ultimate simplicity, is most affecting and in fact, raises the bar in regard to what the listeners think they know about this artist.

Musically, she keeps things straightforward, with acoustic guitar, restrained keyboards, a gently urging beat, and a well placed touch of Eric Demmer's familiar saxophone that also colours in the superb "100 Miles From Mexico".

The mid tempo "Hard Comin' Home" boasts a clever hook, memorable lyrics and infectious melody. There are soft backup harmonies beneath delicate acoustic piano, haunting violin from Gene Elders with the solo vocalist combination. Elders also plays a moving violin on "Dance To The Moon". Co-written with Doug Hudson, the song is a well crafted little number about the demise of relationships and features a haunting melody that will illicit more turns around the dance floor than tears.

There's a sad-edge vibe running through this collection that will appeal to many country music listeners, even though the album is some way off from what would usually be considered mainstream country. Imagine a female Lyle Lovett for the best comparison and you won't be too far off what to expect.

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Dirty Linen Magazine, August/September Issue 2001

Songwriter Denice Franke's strength is her deeply personal examinations of relationships. Her lyrics go straight to the heart of the matter in an honest and open way She sings of love and indifference, of relationships that aren't quite right, but still worth perusing. Her deep and smoky voice carries the proper weight to sing of such matters, and leaves you convinced she's lived through the problems of which she sings. Franke's songs have a mid-tempo groove, with nice melodic twists and largely acoustic backing of piano, cello, violin, and (at times intrusive) saxophone. The only thing that holds this recording back is that all the songs are pitched in a mid-tempo rhythm and tend to melt into one another. But it's her lyrics that really count, and in that department, Franke comes through a real winner. - (Jim Lee)

Back to List Review, June 30, 2001

One of America's greatest forms of music is Folk. It's the one type of music where you can hear honest to God tales of life in this world. There aren't any sugar-coated love songs or catch hooks, there's just gritty, honest music with no hidden agenda.

Denice Franke is true to the folk spirit with this album. It's got a cleaner sound than a lot of other folk recordings, but it's honest and to the point. It's rare in these times to find great songwriters who can give you something beyond watered-down love songs and boring homages to one's self. These songs are gritty and full of true emotion. It's a story of life told by someone who is living. It's folk in it's purest strain.

The album opens with "A Little Bit Of Poison," which is one of the few songs on the album that wasn't written by Franke. It gets the door open so you can explore the rest of the wonderful songs on this album.

"Hard Comin' Home" is my favorite track on the album. It's got that gritty edge, but Franke's melodic vocals give it a welcoming feel. The vocals on this album are harsh enough to give the music credibility, but soothing enough to allow you to put your guard down. Franke is truly blessed in this regard.

This album has a lot to offer anyone who is willing to give it a listen. I enjoyed this CD from beginning to end and I have a feeling you will do the same. This album is one folk album that will have no problem finding a place in someones heart. Just relax, listen, and enjoy. (Samuel Barker)

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Music Matters Review, June 16, 2001

Denice Franke has a rich, deep voice full of color and nuance. She sings of personal relationships and possibilities, and the downside of those connections when they fail. She hails from Texas where she has worked with the likes of Nanci Griffith, and has been lauded by Lyle Lovett. It's easy to see why. Her songs are so well crafted, and her lyrics are so knowing and true, that it's only a matter of time before the powers that be have her signing on the dotted line.

Songs like "Kindred Skin" make her a singer-songwriter who is not easy to forget. Lyrics like these stay with you:

I hunger for your wisdom
I'm turning in your eyes
that always see the big picture
that always see through the disguise

snow don't fall in Houston, Texas
hurricanes rarely visit New York

It didn't even take an hour
to let this stranger in
many call it kindred spirits
I call it kindred skin.

On a recording filled with unforgettable songs, it is difficult to single out two or three for special mention. "Hard Comin' Home" would certainly be on that list. With stellar vocals by Franke, the tune describes the difficulties of loving someone whose work often takes them away from home. Knowing the right moment to walk away from a love that has fallen apart is achingly expressed by Franke in the tender and lovely "Let Me Go":

walk away from me
and leave the keys when you go
don't hesitate, don't turn around
lift your head
you're always talking to the floor
you never look me in the eyes
I feel your fever comin' on
I cannot breathe when you hold on...

The recording closes with the delightful, celebratory "Dance to the Moon." It's a tribute to life, to love, and to the wonder of the natural world.

Denice Franke's talent is a gift. And her latest recording, Comfort, is the beautifully crafted work of a truly original artist. I think it's time that someone takes notice. Franke sits on the threshold of greatness. —Roberta B. Schwartz

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Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, May 2001

Denice Franke has a rich, dark alto, as fine as good Belgian chocolate. Emerging out of the lively Texas music scene, Franke's work has been promoted by the likes of Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith.

Comfort is Franke's sophomore recording, a compelling, mature and engaging followup to her 1997 debut, You Don't Know Me. In the three years between projects, Franke has honed her already considerable skills, producing a recording that is so good it is sure to appear on many best of the year lists.

Franke is simply one of the best songwriters around. Take Kindred Skin, for example. It is an achingly pretty love song played to perfection by Franke on guitar, with Mike Sumler's eloquent phrasing on piano, and John Hagen on cello. How can you not love lyrics like these:

It didn't even take an hour
to let this stranger in
Many call it kindred spirits
I call it kindred skin

Franke has a way with portraying difficult situations and their attendant emotions in song. Hard Comin' Home is one of these. Describing a life where one is at home, and the other is always leaving, things degenerate to the point where "I never would have done if you hadn't said/ never would have said if you hadn't did/ never would have done if you hadn't done it to me."

Let Me Go is about the moment when you know that your relationship is for naught - when you know that it is just about to fall apart, and that it takes just one to let the other go. Franke has the uncanny ability to describe the feelings of that moment in only a few poignant lyrics. And her voice takes us along with her on that journey into dark, new territory. It is absolutely haunting and lovely at the same time. John Hagen on cello is especially good here.

All is not sad and lost in Franke's world. One of the recording's best cuts is Friends Out There, which celebrates the connections we make with others.

The CD closes with a tune called Dance to the Moon, introduced by a wonderful solo on saxophone by Eric Demmer. Life is just a dance "with no band playin' music/ no feet keepin' score/ no band playin' music, no feet keepin' score."

Eric Taylor has produced Franke's work with just the right mix of players employing fairly uncomplicated arrangements. You will also find his touch on nearly every tune, whether it's playing acoustic guitar, bass or providing harmony vocals.

Denice Franke's Comfort provides just that and more. It clearly chronicles the difficulties of watching a relationship unravel, but there is little gloom and doom here. Franke's rich vocals and expert lyric making lead the way to a brighter tomorrow. Comfort is a stunning success, and an important work. Denice Franke is clearly on the road to something big.

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Performing Songwriter, May 2001

An attempt to categorize Denice Franke’s Comfort as Americana, folk, or alt/country would simply not do her or her new record justice. Franke is as decidedly Southwestern as Willie Nelson and her voice is as folky as Joni Mitchell, but this record offers musical options as roomy and inviting as a Texas landscape.

Aside from two covers (David Olney’s “Little Bit of Poison” and Vince Bell’s “100 Miles from Mexico”), Comfort is filled with Franke’s detailed narratives and intricate settings. Her style is much akin to the smooth country of Nanci Griffith and Mary Chapin Carpenter, but Franke incorporates the grievous balladeer sensitivity of Lyle Lovett with a delivery all her own. She has performed with both Lovett and Griffith, and they are counted among her impressive list of songwriter fans, which also includes Robert Earl Keen, Tom Russell, and Eric Taylor, who produced Comfort.

Franke possesses a light, easy ability to settle into a soothing, warm groove and let a song meander until it reaches its pleasurable, even if hopeless, conclusion. (Clay Steakley)

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LA Daily News Review, April 2001

The work of Texas singer-songwriter Franke will remind you of Joni Mitchell's lust-colored romanticism and Phoebe Snow's more bitter longings.

There's a beatnik artsiness to both her husky yet melodious voice and her poetry, but that intelligence more often enhances, rather than overwhelms, the feeling of strong sense of place in her songs of wandering hearts.

"Snow don't fall in Houston, Texas / Hurricanes rarely visit New York," she enunciates exquisitely on the ode to opposites-attract passion, "Kindred Skin" -- and, as she does on many of the cuts here, Franke makes you feel privy to every complexity of an intimate relationship. (Bob Strauss)

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Victory Review, April 2001

Denice Franke's third album immediately draws us in with her distinctively warm, earthy voice and emotional delivery. The restless, rootsy band arrangements only deepen the spell, providing the perfect setting for Franke's vivid explorations of love and longing. She has a gift for seeing the most familiar romantic situations with a personal and original poetic eye, surprising us with unusual details and unexpected insights. In addition to her own songs, her strong, sensitive interpretations of David Olney's "Little Bit of Poison" and Vince Bell's "100 Miles From Mexico" are among the album's highlights. A gifted singer and songwriter who seems destined to reach a wider audience in the coming months. Nice stuff - recommended. (Richard Middleton)

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St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 25, 2001

She's pals with Nanci Griffith, John Gorka and Lyle Lovett, and at this rate, she should soon be pals with you. Texas singer/songwriter Denice Franke has a terrific way with a song, whether telling a story or merely setting a scene. She has a smoky alto voice that is a terrific vehicle for telling her stories, and a nifty sense of instrumental combinations that perfectly complements them.

If there's a theme running through this disc, it's the ebb and flow of relationships. On one song, the singer's eagerly awaiting a lover's arrival (or return); on the next, he or she's on the way out the door ... but not without some hint of a better future. "Morning Glories"' heart-broken protagonist finds hope and solace in a mere wave of a hand.

The set opens with a cover (one of two) of David Olney's "Little Bit of Poison," a sort of lover's answer to the hair of the dog....each successive affair is a little easier to handle. "Kindred Skin" tells how fast a relationship can blossom; the following "Indifference" finds volumes in a lover's inability to even make eye contact. The roller-coaster ride of elation and dejection is clearly evident.

On the other cover, Vince Bell's "100 Miles From Mexico," Franke sets up a mood for the story of hitchhiking in the moonlight that anybody who's ever been out on the road will know. And "Let Me Go" is a beguiling ballad that asks the eternal question, "who's the saddest fool of all/the one letting go, the one hangin' on?"

No overnight sensation, Franke has been working the circuit for 20 years. The second solo record should have you hooked in about 20 minutes. (James M. Tarbox)

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The Tennessean, March 19, 2001

Dig down through the most visible layers of the Texas singer/songwriter scene, past Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, and their ilk, and you'll find a seething community of talented artists who love nothing so much as painting their worlds with a guitar and weighty words. Denice Franke occupies an increasingly honored place in that second stratum, along with folks like Vince Bell, Willis Allen Ramsey and Eric Taylor. This is her second album, and it's a subdued, lush and emotionally exposed project produced by Taylor with a potent, acoustic naturalism.

At the opening, a voice from the studio says, "hang on," and for anyone willing to follow Franke down her various emotional tunnels, that's good advice. This is adult stuff, full of people trying to feel something, afraid of feeling anything, luring their lovers into the light, and pushing difficult things back into the darkness. The title of the album is not a single song, but an elusive notion that suffuses the entire record.

Franke's bold and vibrato-laden alto lends the same kind of earnestness to her lyrics that one hears in the work of Nashville's Kate Campbell. Sometimes the languid pace of these songs makes for a gorgeous sound laden with cello, piano, and Franke's accomplished guitar playing, and sometimes it grows just too sluggish and blue for my tastes. Though her own songs contain some striking images and revelations, none stick in my brain musically as effectively as her intense, vigorous cover of David Olney's "Little Bit of Poison." But as a chronicler of character and moment, Franke proves a sure hand. (Craig Havighurst)

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Houston Press, February 22, 2001

Even if you have watched Denice Franke evolve from a backup singer for Nanci Griffith to a tentative songwriter to a poet, you won't be prepared for the leap she's taken on her new album, Comfort. "I think there's something to be said / about the more in the less," she sings on "To the Light." That couplet nicely sums up the maturity of Franke's writing these days.

The Houston resident writes in a conversational style that bubbles with emotional intensity just below the surface. Her main theme here is "home" - and how to create it. When you think about how we force our musicians to spend the bulk of their lives on the road to earn a living, it's an important question.

On "Friends Out There," Franke hints at the sadness of the peripatetic life, while "Hard Comin' Home" wonders whether it's really worth leaving at all. And on the achingly beautiful waltz tune "Dance to the Moon," Franke compares the continual grind of the road to a worn-down ritualized dance as well as the snarl of an old gray tomcat who's been fighting too long.

A single image recurs in several of Franke's songs: the moment when the traveler arrives home and is met at the door by a loved one. The image surfaces on "Personally," "Indifference" and "To the Light." Franke savors the shadows that fall on peoples' faces, the looks they give each other - images that create a world of their own.

Houston producer and arranger Eric Taylor, better known for his own idiosyncratic music, adds muscle to Franke's songs. He understands how to make these tunes sound commercial without messing with their integrity. Taylor also straps on a guitar and bass; he's joined in the studio by keyboardist Mike Sumler and Lyle Lovett regulars cellist John Hagen and percussionist James Gilmer. They, along with Franke's nuanced vocals, take the music to a higher level. You can indeed take Comfort. (Aaron Howard)

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Houston Chronicle, February 1, 2001

Houston vocalist Denice Franke has shared a stage with Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett.

But it took a different kind of backup gig to find her voice and personality as a solo artist - backing up the waiters and waitresses as a bartender at Cafe Express.

After a 20-plus-year career spent with the Beacon City Band and later as a duo with Doug Hudson, the timid Franke began thinking that music might not be her forte anymore. She and Hudson reached a pinnacle in 1988 as supporting singers for Griffith's live hits album One Fair Summer Evening, recorded at Houston's Anderson Fair.

Shortly after that, however, she and Hudson parted ways, and Franke thought her desire to create music might have gone with him.

"I went into this funk on stage. I was slowly losing interest in listening to music, going to hearing and writing it," Franke recalls. "I was letting it slip away."

Not quite knowing what to do next, Franke took the job as a bartender. She now believes it was one of her most vital career moves, helping to cultivate the multiple moods of her second album, Comfort, which will be released Feb. 27. A CD-release party for her hometown fans will be held Saturday - a fair winter evening - at Anderson Fair.

"Bartending opened me up. I became more approachable and was able to talk to people," says a rejuvenated Franke, who was forced to be social with customers while shaking their martinis or cosmopolitans. "Before that, I'd be singing my soul out on stage, but I'd be looking at my shoes."

It was fellow singer-songwriter and Houstonian Eric Taylor who helped transfer that newfound congeniality into music. After supplementing his own vocals with hers for a self-named 1995 album, Taylor told Franke that when she was ready to make an album he'd produce it.

"It blew me away," Franke says. "I finally stopped procrastinating, called Eric and said, 'What's your calendar look like?' "

Her solo debut, 1998's aptly titled You Don't Know Me, was a solid song set that Franke admits suffered a bit from a lack of discipline - but it was a complete labor of love. Its triumph is the sheepish journal entry "Rainy Night in Detroit."

"I had no calluses on my hands, and my voice was out of shape," Franke says. "I was uncomfortable singing and playing, but by the end of the process Eric and I were like proud parents."

Comfort is a much bolder and varied collection with ample guitar textures and strings over Franke's alto. "Kindred Skin" is a ballad about long-distance love that rivals the infatuation of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You."

Only those who haven't experienced separation won't get goose bumps when she sings, "Snow don't fall in Houston, Texas. Hurricanes rarely visit New York."

Equally impressive is a relaxed rough cut of David Olney's "Little Bit of Poison" and the lush catgut-and-ivory prelude leading off a cover of Vince Bell's "100 Miles From Mexico." In both cases Franke takes the songs of two very individual singer-songwriters and makes them her own. (Michael D. Clark)

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Buddy Magazine, February, 2001

If lyrics are content (what a song says) and music is context (what a song means, at a deeper level), then Comfort is a deep, dark, contemplative album with just enough of a hint of optimism that we expect the sun will rise again. Denice Franke shares nine of her own songs with interpretations of David Olney's "Little Bit of Poison" and Vince Bell's "100 Miles from Mexico."

Franke's deep alto is as much an instrument of delivery as is Gene Elders' excellent violin work, James Gilmer's hand percussion, and Eric Demmer's sax on a takes-itself-seriously CD that blends folk with touches of blues and jazz and other sounds.

Producer Eric Taylor - one of our best songwriters and riveting solo performers - brings content and context together. Franke and Taylor have been friends for more than 20 years; Franke has performed with Taylor for more than half of those years and has, unsurprisingly, picked up some of Taylor's habits.

"There are songs on the record where I hear Eric's influence, especially sometimes in my phrasing," she said. "It probably comes from years of singing backup with him. I look at Comfort as a collaboration reflecting me as the singer, writer, and interpreter I am today. It reflects Eric as the producer he is today. I presented the songs and gave him full control over the production. I offered a few suggestions here and there but what you hear in the final product is the vision Eric Taylor had for my songs."

"So many artists go into the studio without giving much thought to the producer and they come out with a record that sounds like just a band behind the songs. Working with Eric, you get textures, breath, smoke, skin. And he knows when to get out of the way of the song. That's what I love about working with him," she said.

Lyrically, Franke is beginning to move into the territory of writers like Olney and Bell who don't attract a lot of mainstream attention but who attract justifiably enthusiastic followers. She uses specific lyrics to explore universal moments, and delivers half a dozen fine new songs, including the closing duet, "Dance to the Moon," with Taylor. While the lyric content of Comfort is strong and worthy on its own merits, the CD's greatest strength is in the context created by fine musicians and arrangements - in what we feel when we listen. (Tom Geddie)

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South Florida Entertainment News, February 2001

No title could be truer. The second album by this talented Texas singer and songwriter is a wonderfully wistful affair, full of sweet sentiments and emotional embraces. Having worked with the likes of Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith, Franke has won the kudos of the other artists with whom she's been associated and it's easy to see why. Comfort is one of the warmest and winning albums to come from the Lone Star State in quite some time.

Part of the appeal lies in Franke's beguiling vocals, a style that's both innocent and intuitive all at the same time. At times, she bears a striking similarity to a young Joni Mitchell, especially in such as "Kindred Skin," the compelling "Friends Out There," and the gorgeous and engaging "Dance To The Moon," a touching, tender duet with her mentor and producer Eric Taylor. She has her edgier elements as well! The album's opener "A Little Bit Of Poison" is cutting and confident, as is "Personally," a seared and scarred tale of turbulent romance. Her sentiments soften in the songs that follow, as she interweaves beguiling beauty with an edgy attitude, verve with vulnerability.

A beautiful ballad like "Let Me Go" shows the impact of her compositional skills and an exceptional ability to connect musically and emotionally. "Morning Glories" betrays a longing and loneliness that's tender and touching.

Franke shows the promise and potential that could make her an important voice for the decade just begun. Comfort is just that, a welcome respite and a soothing sojourn. (Lee Zimmerman)

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Pause Record, January 2001

This is only Franke's second solo recording, but fans of the folk and alt-country scenes are probably already familiar with her luxuriant alto from stints singing harmony with folks like Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Tom Russell, John Gorka, Eric Taylor and others. Those artists and many others have been pushing for Franke to release more of her own songs, which have been heard after hours at festivals and in folk clubs for close to two decades. Franke has been a staple of the Texas music circuit for all those years, and this release may have been a long time coming but it was certainly worth the wait.

Franke's songs are deeply personal affairs, to be sure, but they are also artfully crafted pieces, not just self-reflection. Dominated by gentle ballads, this album does sound like the comfort of talking with an old friend about all their hopes and hurts, highways and homes. Franke accompanies herself with an extremely percussive acoustic guitar style, while various tracks feature electric guitars, rhythm sections, pedal steel, even a bit of saxophone, cello and violin here and there.

And if the idea of folk ballads and coffeehouses sounds like it might be a little bit tame, think again. In the opening track Franke sings a Dave Olney lyric over a gypsy blues groove with more than a little bit of conviction: "I need a little bit of poison," Franke insists, "to keep me strong."

The album won't be in stores until late February, but West Coasters should be on the lookout for Franke now, as she is on tour in the region. (da Flower Punk)

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Rootstown Music Magazine, 2001

Texan singer Denice Franke has spent many years in the company of Eric Taylor, for whom she provided harmony vocals with her deep, warm and slightly husky voice. Therefore it will come as no surprise that her latest, second, album COMFORT is characterised by a similar atmosphere as an Eric Taylor album. Which is further enhanced by the fact that Eric took care of producing the album, as was the case for her debut YOU DON'T KNOW ME, released in 1997. Just like him, Denice wraps her songs in such intimacy that frequently the songs reach straight for the heart. Initially, COMFORT may give the impression of being a wee bit dismal, but a more intensive listen will reveal that Denice is by no means a sombre person. Accompanied by choice, renowned session artists, like violinist Gene Elders, pianist Mike Sumler and Lyle Lovett's cellist John Hagen, Denice Franke blends her delicate, folky songs with whiffs of jazz and blues. Her beautiful songs contain poetic lyrics, occasionally describing emerging relationships, though more often relating about those that have faded away, without, however, ever giving in to self-pity. The way in which Denice looks upon and sings about these utterly personal matters is indicative of the aptness of the album title.

Next to 9 original songs COMFORT contains 2 covers, David Olney's Little Bit Of Poison and Vince Bell's 100 miles From Mexico. The contributions of these kindred spirits blend seamlessly with Denice's repertoire. On the closing track, Dance To The Moon, dating back from 1987, our friend Eric Taylor contributes some fine vocals, turning it into one of the most touching ballads to be released lately. Denice Franke may have been an active singer for over 20 years, to me she stands on the threshold of a great career; she is destined to go a long way and COMFORT constitutes a firm step forward in that respect. -
- (Jos van den Boom) The Netherlands

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Official website for Denice Franke

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