If you listen closely to Ron Franklin’s music, you may experience space and time jumping the tracks. It can happen when he switches from an electric rhythm guitar blast and picks up a lonesome slide lead, or when his wrangly, whisper-from-the-past vocals kick in, then choogle off into the distance. Shifting into another dimension, you may hear contemporary imagery and language brushing against old time themes, and a definite restlessness, rustling through his sensory-laden lyrics that echo the music and travel together in perfect unity—original but familiar; inviting but opaque, heavy but with heart.
Franklin’s self-titled set for Alive Records, City Lights for the Memphis International label, and a limited edition special pressing of Blue Shadows Falling, are demonstrations of the lengths he’s gone for a song. Schooled by Memphis music greats from Willie Mitchell to Jim Dickinson, learning from the hands and words of Otha Turner, Arthur Lee and Solomon Burke, Franklin’s a man of history, just now coming of age with Gasoline Silver, a thoroughly modern, electric album and band. With classic song styles that recall the Doc Pomus-inspired sound of the city, Ron Franklin stands alongside the timeless, gypsy souls of rock’n’roll—the Heartbreakers, Patti Smith and Suicide—and comes up swinging. With his poetry of the street, and southern R&B bona fides, he is readymade for the great rock’n’roll shakedown.
Franklin’s enigmatic stories, about blue devils, hill country picnics, and girls lost to footprints in the snow, are rooted in real life, then spun into musical universes of their own. Occupied by different cars, different characters, and different versions of the American dream or nightmare, every verse is as right for a country night as it is for urban lights. Like time travelers passing in the night, sometimes the worlds collide and connect up, a little like the way real life and its players begin to reveal themselves: Stranger than fiction stories, unfathomable coincidences and outcomes impossible to predict. His surreal yet believable subjects concern a certain kind of dream and dreamer, the ones with romance and melody in their hearts, and trouble in mind. Franklin refuses to check his intellect or his wit at the door when he sings, “There are no free refills for the taking / There ain’t no four winds that blow strong,” as he does in “Dear Marianne,” an epic that speaks to the betrayal of the Americas, late 20th Century-style. And yet, riding side by side with his realist is a seeker and eternal optimist, stoking the fire of “Black Lightening.” To hear him sing “If you don’t see me tonight, I’m underneath the stars so bright / Listenin’ to that black smokestack lightnin’ blow again,” is to travel to where the black smoke is rising and the train whistles blow, manifesting a space where the images are as real as the record and the player on which they’re spinning.
See and hear Gasoline Silver live on the West Coast, June 14-22. Check local listings for details.