There is power in collaboration -- Singer/songwriter Pete Francis (ex of Dispatch) has taken a new approach on his latest album, The Movie We Are In. He's surrendered some of the production duties, which led to working with a more varied set of musicians. Left to his own devices, he has a simpler sound that works well for his material, but this album has a richer feel than his self produced material. Jeff Trott (Sheryl Crow and others) brought a different sensibility that expanded the musical possibilities.
Songs like the album opener, Glue, showcase the change. It starts out with a wash of electronica behind the jazzy acoustic guitar. Layers of additional parts slowly develop through the course of the song, while still maintaining a dreamy quality. As a contrast, check out this solo version. It's not bad, but the album version is much more interesting.
Francis maintains a poetic flow of slightly obtuse lyrics throughout much of the album. The songs are catchy enough that it doesn't distract too much, though. Without being derivative, Francis evokes other singer songwriters, like the Bruce Cockburn sound of Light Years, the Willie Nile groove of Good Man, or the laid back ballad, Greg Brown feel of Light Up My Day. This last song is finely crafted. Stripped down to its essence, it's moving and catchy. But the album version has perfect dynamics and some great accents, from the horn punches to the subliminal organ work. Even the guitar tone adds an element of depth to the song.
I'll close this with the first official single, Love Shakes You Down. It's a simple retro rocker, with bell chimes out of 1963. The vocals and sound structure remind me of John Wesley Harding or Billy Bragg. It's a memorable tune. Pete Francis is a fine songwriter and The Movie We Are In is a good vehicle to show off his songs in an interesting context.
A bottle of my homebrewed vanilla-cardamom mead would fit Francis' music: unexpected and intriguing.