Michael Franks: “Sleeping Gypsy”

Sleeping Gypsy JDM 1

Michael Franks: Sleeping Gypsy
Recorded at Capitol Records, Hollywood, and in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, August-November 1976; released on LP 1977, CD 1990; various digital remasterings, including an SHM-CD for the Japanese Domestic Market (2012).

Michael Franks, vocals, banjo, guitar, mandolin; Joe Sample, João Donato, piano; Wilton Felder, bass; Larry Carlton, Hélio Delmiro, guitar; John Guerin, João Palma, Larry Bunker, drums; Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone; David Sanborn, alto saxophone; Ray Armando, percussion; Claus Ogerman, arranger and conductor; Tommy LiPuma, producer, Al Schmitt, engineer.

Yacht Rock? Or perhaps more like, “Jetliner to Brazil” Rock… .

If the soundworld of Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark or that of Steely Dan’s Aja appeals to you, I think you will enjoy Michael Franks’ third studio album, Sleeping Gypsy. Sleeping Gypsy has a substantial overlap in session personnel with Court and Spark, and a partial overlap with Aja.

But over and above the sonic contributions of the finest of Los Angeles’ 1970s on-call musicians, what Sleeping Gypsy shares with its far better known contemporaries is literate and literary songwriting, and an adult perspective.

Sound samples and more after the jump.

As a songwriter, Michael Franks was capable of regarding modern love with philosophical detachment. Even the Village Voice’s perennially disgruntled Robert Christgau had to pause to acknowledge (“he woke me up long enough to make me believe he had some smarts”) the creative intelligence that fashioned the Cole-Porter-esque couplet:

I hear from my ex
On the back of my checks.

Hand in hand with the worldy-wise words is music that to a greater or lesser degree incorporates the lilt and rhythmic subtlety of Bossa Nova; two tracks, the tongue-in-cheek “B’wana He No Home,” and “Down in Brazil,” were recorded in Rio.

Sleeping Gypsy JDM 2The recorded sound is excellent 1970s analog—multitracked and doubtless overdubbed as well. The LP is available for not much money used. As far as I know, there has been no LP remastering, and there are no high-resolution digital downloads. So your buying choices are, the new American-market CD, a used CD for not much money, or, the JDM SHM-CD for a lot of money. I bought the SHM-CD and I love it; but I also have to admit that the sonic improvement over the US-market Plain Jane CD is only incremental and not hugely revelatory.

I think that the first three tracks of Sleeping Gypsy are the strongest opening tracks of any of Franks’ albums, so, here they are. Track 3, “In the Eye of the Storm,” is a song that can withstand comparison with anything from that era. There’s more to it than grad-student cleverness; what follows the couplet about hearing from one’s ex is addressed to the narrator’s current love interest. He tells her that if she holds him a while,  he will “hang up his guns.” He’s still a male who cannot speak directly in such matters, but at least he is trying. He compares the two of them to “two little birds, in the eye of the storm.” And whether “storm” refers to love, or to the whole of life, matters not.

Other standout Franks albums, by the way, are The Art of Tea, and Burchfield Nines.

“The Lady Wants to Know”

” I Really Hope It’s You”

“In the Eye of the Storm”

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4 Replies to “Michael Franks: “Sleeping Gypsy””

  1. Ted

    I thoroughly enjoyed today’s “episode”! A delicious sonic oasis in the midst of an insanely busy journey for me recently. I really enjoyed the clear vocal, poetic story-telling, and slight Steely Dan feel to the arrangements of the samples you provided.

    Well done!



    • John Marks Post author

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