Mt. Vernon Gazette – December 21-27, 2006
'Story Time Live at
Country music is often soulful and sorrowful - lost love, lost lives, lost opportunities, the all too familiar story of life itself for many Yet it's often mixed with a foot-stomping, finger-snapping defiance of the daily struggles needed to meet life on the terms dealt.
That ongoing saga is what Cleve Francis & Friends is all about in his new double CD album entitled "Story Time Live at The Birchmere." Through 30 interpretive offerings, he and his musical friends take American "story time" to a new musical level during a live performance at Alexandria's historic club. From its foot stomping opening "I'll Stop Loving You" through the mournful "It's Probably Me" and "Daddy Cut My Hair" Francis pulls not only at the heart strings - as he is accustomed to, as a real-life cardiologist - but also the soul.
It is a subtle blend of down-home country R&B, jazz in the mode of early Stan Kenton, with just a sprinkling here and there of Brubeck, and an element of the Highwaymen that brings together all the existential beings that comprise Cleve Francis.
Born and raised in the Bayou country of Louisiana, Francis started playing the guitar at an early age and went on to become a highly respected member of the medical community; he's practically a living country music ballad.
But, this album is not just Cleve Francis. There are the "Friends." David Bandahan, cello; Larry Boddie, percussion; Bryan Fox, bass; John Georgeou, acoustic guitar; Gary Green, harmonica; Robert Holmes, sax and flute; Arthur
List, keyboard, synthesizer; Brice Middle, lead guitar, dobro; Eric Northern, drums; Myron Prosser; fiddle; Rob Waller; banjo; and Terrance-Parker McLeod and Darci Vanderhoff, background vocals.
There is also the influence of gospel in all of his music, a carryover from his performances with a gospel group known as the Midsouth Spiritual Singers while a high-school student. The poignancy of those days in the deep south as a traveling black musician are captured in his "Baloney Again."
What is most striking throughout this performance is Francis' ability and agility to allow his audience to enjoy not only his renditions of the wide ranging selections but also to experience the near classical offerings of his "Friends." From the percussion and drums of Boddie and Northern to the melancholy flute of Holmes it is a total treat for the senses both acoustically and for but the pictures painted on the mind's eye. The album is available on wwwclevefrancis.com as "Storytime."
- CHUCK HAGEE