"Jim is one of those people who has absolutely no idea what he's capable of." Brian Franklin sits in the corner of a nondescript North Miami Beach fast-food restaurant, munching on French fries and talking about his friend and sometime-musical collaborator, Broward-based singer-songwriter Jim Jones. But he may as well be describing himself.
Perhaps better known to local audiences as lead guitarist and backup singer in the rock outfit Sabatella, the 22-year-old Franklin, it turns out, is quite the singer-songwriter in his own right, the proof of which now can be heard on Suburban Hallucinations, Franklin's newly minted CD.
Recorded on the fly during an intense one-week period in April, Suburban Hallucinations is an impressive collection of haunting ballads and midtempo rockers that -- and this is merely a bonus -- features a handful of South Florida's more accomplished musicians in cameo appearances. "I've tended to not really throw an official band together as much as I've invited all the musicians that I'm friends with to do something," notes Franklin, explaining the presence of such local luminaries as Diane Ward and bandmates Matt Sabatella (bass) and Jordan Steele Lash (drums) on the CD.
Of course Sabatella's smooth bass lines and Ward's divine vocals are always a pleasure to hear. But at the core of Suburban Hallucinations lie Franklin's spare arrangements, judicious guitar work, and the delicate harmonies he achieves with Jones, with whom Franklin has been playing in local coffeehouses for the past two years. Franklin calls his music "acoustic alternative," if only to avoid the dreaded folkie tag. "I would never label myself as a folk artist," he says. "Ever. I can't get into it. But there will continually be that misconception that all acoustic guitarists are folk artists."
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With the band Sabatella, Franklin tosses off sizzling guitar licks with the same ease that right-wing radio nut G. Gordon Liddy exhorts violence against federal agents. But for his own CD, Franklin has toned down the guitar-hero theatrics to allow the songs to speak for themselves. Franklin readily admits those songs add up to a fairly dark whole: "Corner Mary" kicks off the CD with the full band in a midtempo Counting Crows-ish shuffle, telling the tale of a girl from an abusive family struggling between disillusionment and responsibility; "Sleep" deals with the conflict in Chechnya through the eyes of a Russian soldier ("I do not want to dream/These things that I dream/But Brother, Brother/How do you refuse the night when it comes?"); "Necessary Losses" was penned just before Franklin's grandfather passed away; the middle-age protagonist of the standout title track, slowly losing his grasp on reality, attributes his condition to "suburban hallucinations."
While all of that may seem like a downer, the songs' deceptively simple arrangements make the CD an enjoyable listen. Ward and Jones chime in sweetly at the appropriate moments, and Franklin's full, raspy vocals hit the right emotional buttons without overwhelming the songs. If there's one knock on the CD, it's that a few of the numbers drag on a bit longer than they should (the ten tunes average out at just over six minutes each). "Sleep," for example, a duet between Ward and Franklin, loses some of its impact over the course of eight minutes and several tempo changes. But that's not a uniform complaint. The equally long "Angel Hernandez," a stark acoustic number, comes dangerously close to being hypnotic.
A feeling of spontaneity runs throughout the CD, largely because most of the tracks were recorded on the first take. Franklin explains the rush was a happy accident. The Sabatella band was on a two-week hiatus, and Rat Bastard, whom Franklin had lined up to engineer and mix the CD, was getting ready to fly off to Atlanta for an extended trip. "Rat was like, 'Yeah, we can do the whole thing in fourteen hours,'" Franklin recalls. The final count was closer to 40 hours of studio time for recording and mixing, which led to some nerve-racking evenings.
"I was concerned because I knew Rat was going out of town," says Franklin. "I wanted to get it done in the worst way. We were sitting there and it would be two o' clock in the morning, and there would be the realization that it's not going to get done today. And then we'd say, 'Okay, we'll need one more day and we'll knock it out.' But then we'd get there the next day, and it would almost get done. And so I think it was by the third day or fourth day, it would be like four o' clock in the morning, and I'd be looking at Jim [Jones], and looking at my watch, and looking at Rat, and looking at my watch, and looking at Jim, and we would be on the fourth song, and we hadn't even started the mixdown yet."
That Franklin now has a CD in his hands proves the work was completed before the Rat-meter expired. As for Franklin's next move, well, Sabatella remains a going concern A in fact, the band is ready to go into the studio to record its own CD. Franklin, an easygoing sort who downplays any talk of a solo record deal, contends his objective in recording Suburban Hallucinations was simple: "People would ask me, 'Do you have something?' And I would be like, 'Uh, maybe,' and then rush home and put together a four-track tape. I wanted to put some closure to this stuff.
"I had no intention of joining anybody's band until I met Matt," he continues. "When I heard Matt's music it kicked my ass. I felt that he was on his way, and that it wasn't going to be a step backward in my career if I were to join up. So I didn't feel like I could lose. I still don't feel like I can lose."
Brian Franklin performs during his CD release party at 10:00 p.m. Friday, June 16, at Nocturnal Cafe, 110 SW 3rd Ave, Ft Lauderdale; 525-9656. Other scheduled performers include Diane Ward, Arlan, Matthew Sabatella, and Zac.
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