Fran: Leaving [Album Review]

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Fire Talk Records [2023]

The sophomore release from Chicago-based band, Fran, finds vocalist and principal songwriter Maria Jacobson reflecting on the underlying philosophical values and thinking that people rely on to help make sense of their experiences. Inspired by reading Alan Watts’ “Wisdom of Insecurity,” which suggests a Zen-like acceptance that “impermanence and insecurity are inescapable and inseparable from life,” according to a review in the Book Exchange. In the gentle folk of “God,” she sings “I’m not the same as I was when we started,” an intimate revelation made all the more poignant when she acknowledges the need “to take some time to wrestle with certain change that comes with playing God,” something we all attempt from time to time.

The album opens with “Limousine” as Jacobson seeks to be in the moment, while “everyone’s eating and dancing,” going on about their lives even though “grief and anger/are facing us down/like a bully in a swimming pool.” She sings each line as strings build slowly around her voice and a melodic guitar line suggests a peace that comes as she spends “an afternoon outside with a magazine.” The folk rock of “Palm Trees” follows, with a gently beat as piano and guitar mix with strings while the lyric wrestles with whether to bring a plant inside to protect it from colder weather, aware of the deeper existential threat of climate change on plants, not to mention human survival.

Jacobson sings the opening lines of “How Did We” acapella, asking “How did we go from passion and knowing/All the way to fate?” about a relationship that is unraveling, only to conclude in the following track, the acoustic introspection of “How Did I,” taking ownership of her part, asking “How did I keep you waiting/Or staying.” It’s that attention to the inner voice, that intimate awareness, the ability to ask, “Am I afraid or am I crazy?” that fuels the songwriting throughout Leaving, even as co-producers Jacobson and Brian Sulpizio gently fortify these introspective lyrics with choice harmony vocals by Carolina Chauffe, and a melody enriched by clarinet. The band provides just enough musical atmospherics to support Jacobson’s melodic vocals and philosophically rich lyrical observations. She plays acoustic guitar, while Sulpizio contributes quieter passages, and Bret Koontz brings bolder electrics to rockier numbers like “Everybody” and “The Label,” and the jazzier vibe of “Winter.” Jake Acosta adds bass, Asley Guerrero drums, and Jacobson plays flute along with the string section when appropriate. Strong songcraft, lyrical depth and rich musical settings make Fran’s second full-length album one worthy of thoughtful listening; Jacobson’s voice and artistry shine throughout Leaving.

“Palm Trees” / “Winter” / “The Label”

Julien Baker / Lucy Dacus / Snail Mail

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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