Sunday, December 16, 2007

BOB FRANKE "Dragged Into Christmas" Concert, 12/22


Bob Franke (it rhymes with “Yankee”) is at the peak of his considerable craft; brimming with the wise and spiritually generous songs for which he is best known, along with wrenchingly convincing topical songs and sugared with the hilarious. His are the kind of songs that really do have the power to change the world by being taken into the lives of people. They come to you, these songs.

As Tom Paxton says, "It's his integrity. I always think of Bob as if Emerson and Thoreau had picked up acoustic guitars and gotten into songwriting. There's touches of Mark Twain and Buddy Holly in there, too."

Franke began his career as a singer-songwriter in 1965 while a student at the University of Michigan. He was one of the first people to perform at the now famous Ark Coffeehouse in Ann Arbor. Upon graduation in 1969 with an A.B. in English Literature, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has since made New England his home.

Bob's songs are considered classics, fueled by his deep faith and the real-life lessons taught him by his 30-odd years of playing everywhere from concert halls to street corners. Bob has appeared in concert at coffeehouses, colleges, festivals, bars, streets, homes and churches in 33 states, four Canadian provinces and England. His concerts have appeared in lists of the top five musical events of the year chosen by critics in the Boston and San Francisco Bay areas. In 1990, he was nominated as an Outstanding Folk Act by the Boston Music Awards.

Consider this list: Peter, Paul and Mary; David Wilcox; John McCutcheon; Sally Rogers; Lui Collins; Garnet Rogers; June Tabor. These well-known artists (and many more) all sing and record Bob's music. Seasoned veterans and novices alike are drawn to the complex, warm-hearted spirituality and captivatingly clear-cut melodies of Franke's songs.

When he isn't writing or touring, Bob leads workshops in songwriting at music festivals and music camps, workshops described by the participants as "transcendent." He was the Artistic Director of the Singer-Songwriter Project of 1999's Bethlehem Steel Festival. In August of 1990 Bob wrote a set of songs for a ballet of "The Velveteen Rabbit," commissioned by the ODC Dance Company of San Francisco. He has composed three cantatas and a number of hymns for the Church of St. Andrew in Marblehead, MA. The Songs of Bob Franke, a songbook produced by the the Folk Project, was released in 1992. He wrote a Harvest Cantata for the Marblehead Eco-Farm in 1996. The song "Hard Love" figures prominently in Ellen Wittlinger’s young adult novel of the same name (Simon & Schuster, 1999).

Among his live radio credits are A Prairie Home Companion, A Mountain Stage, Our Front Porch, Sandy Bradley's Potluck, Folk Scene, West Coast Weekend, and Bound for Glory.

In addition, Bob has recorded a number of albums with much well-deserved critical acclaim (see Recordings). Two of his songs appear in the top ten of WERS-FM (Boston) 1988 poll of all-time favorite folk songs. Brief Histories was named one of the ten best albums of 1989 by Boston Globe critic Scott Alarik and was nominated as an Outstanding Folk Album by the 1990 Boston Music Awards. In This Night was named #1 Acoustic Recording of 1991 by WUMB-FM (Boston) and was nominated as Outstanding Folk Album by the 1992 Boston Music Awards. His first Daring release, The Heart of the Flower, was named one of the Boston Globe's top ten folk albums of 1995. His latest , Long Roads, Short Visits was released in September of 1997, becoming one of WUMB-FM Boston’s top ten recordings of that year. The Desert Questions (2001) is Bob's latest.

A Night to Sing the Praises of Bob Franke
by Scott Alarik, The Boston Globe, January 22, 1996

CAMBRIDGE--What makes a song a hit? These days, the only measures seem to be units sold, chart placement, number of recorded versions. In folk music, however, there is another kind of hit: songs that travel from person to person, often without knowledge of authorship; songs that are truly taken into the lives of people. Saturday, an impressive parade of gifted folk artists gathered at Sanders Theater to honor Bob Franke, a local songwriter they clearly feel writes hits like that, on the occasion of his 30th year in folk music.

Each act did one Franke song, one original. Lorraine and Bennett Hammond set the stage wonderfully, explaining that what binds all Franke's songs is that they are all somehow about love, then offering their own reflective "Love Has a Life of Its Own."

As the evening convincingly displayed, the love in Franke's songs moves far beyond the dating-and-mating love in so much of today's pop. Tom Paxton sang Franke's sublime meditation "Thanksgiving Eve:" "What can you do with each moment of your life/But love till you've loved it away?"

More at

Franke's Heavenly Lyrics Strike a Chord with Folk Brethren
by Daniel Gewertz, The Boston Herald, January 17, 1996

Bob Franke came from a time when folk singers didn't make money, they made a difference. "Money and record sales didn't cloud the picture. We tended to honor the best among us," said the man respected as New England's finest philosophical songwriter.

A dozen folk singers will honor Franke on his 30th anniversary in music at Sanders Theater on Saturday. The concert will include two troubadours far more famous than the evening's namesake: Tom Paxton and Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter Paul and Mary).

"It's his integrity," Paxton said of Franke. "I always think of Bob as if Emerson and Thoreau had picked up acoustic guitars and gotten into songwriting. There's touches of Mark Twain and Buddy Holly in there, too."

Though he's an unknown in wider circles, on the folk circuit Franke songs such as "Hard Love" and "For Real are considered classics. Instead of ending a concert with sing-alongs by Woody Guthrie, some area shows have closed with Franke's anthemic "The Great Storm Is Over" or his prayerful "Thanksgiving Eve."

More at

The 30th Anniversary Concert
Franke's Folks
Friends and Admirers Gather to Pay Tribute to the Songwriter
by Scott Alarik, The Boston Globe, January 19, 1996

Most people have to die before anyone throws a soiree like this for them. Tomorrow at 7:30pm, a group of folk all-stars gathers at Sanders Theater to honor 48-year-old Bob Franke on his 30th anniversary as a folk singer. Fellow songwriters Tom Paxton, Noel Paul Stookey, Jack Hardy, Linda Waterfall, Lui Collins, Mason Daring, Lorraine and Bennett Hammond, and Geoff Bartley will perform some of their own songs and, in the highest honor one songwriter can pay to another, also sing versions of Franke songs, many of which have become standards in the modern folk canon. Franke will perform as well.

Another cause for celebration is the recent release of "The Heart of the Flower," his first release on Daring Records. It is his prettiest record to date, thanks in no small part to Daring's sublimely sensitive production. It shows Franke at the peak of his considerable craft, brimming with the wise and spiritually generous songs for which he is best known, along with wrenchingly convincing topical songs and sugared by a hilarious cyber-blues and the adorably bubble-gum-corny ode to his wife, "Christine '65".

It may seem curious for such a fuss to be made for an artist who has never had a mainstream hit, never won a Grammy, made the cover of Rolling Stone or even sung a duet with Willie Nelson. But success is measured differently in folk music than in commercial pop. His songs have been covered by a myriad folk performers, among them such diverse artists as Tony Rice, June Tabor, Stan and Garnet Rogers, Priscilla Herdman, Gordon Bok and John McCutcheon. But Franke is counted among today's best folk songwriters for deeper reasons that say much about how folk's standards differ from those of the music industry.

More at

Review of "The Heart of the Flower"

from Sing Out!, Vol. 40, No. 4
©1996 Sing Out! Corporation

This represents Franke's most "commercial" release, with full professional production by Mason Daring. Being a folkie at heart, Daring tastefully layers just the right amount of accompaniment. Of course, the contributions of instrumentalists Nina Gerber, Cary Black and Billy Novick further enhance the production.

Franke is one of the very few songwriters who can weave religion into his songs, as he does in "Eye Of The Serpent," without sounding like he's proselytizing or dogmatic. His songs form compact moral dramas equally appropriate to atheists, Christians or Buddhists.

Franke has re-recorded here his well-known "Hard Love", long out of print, although now covered by about a dozen other performers. While his voice has never sounded better, it lacks the edge of pain that once accompanied this song. Still, even amid 10 other fine gems, "Hard Love" alone justifies the cost of the CD.

More at

Review of "The Heart of the Flower"

from Dirty Linen, June/July '96
©1996 Dirty Linen

Bob Franke The Heart of the Flower [Daring CD3016 (1995)] Sing Hallelujah, the great storm is over! A new release finally from Bob Franke, poet and songwriter. Although he is best known as a singer's songwriter, Franke's own versions are quietly beautiful. His songs have great words and nice tunes; many feature Franke's sly humor or a touch of the Divine (if not both). Franke's version of his own "Hard Love" is on this album along with many others, particularly a gorgeous retelling of the story of Jonah, "Waiting for Nineveh to Burn." (WD)


Artist information:

Venue: Loring-Greenough House, 12 South Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.

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