When Ron Franklin took the stage at The Buccaneer last Saturday night, it was as a solo act. Armed with his trusty Epiphone guitar, the Ron Franklin Entertainers and Natural Kicks frontman was showcasing songs from his brand-new albums, Ballads, Songs & Snatches and Time and a Half (random tracks), two self-released collections. While most of Franklin's music sounds like the perfect amalgamation of garage-rock and blues -- as if the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies had been transplanted to the Mississippi Delta -- these songs are stripped-down and sensitive folkie tunes that are more reminiscent of Fred Neil and Bob Dylan. On "Do Not Wait 'Til I'm Laid 'Neath the Clay," Franklin yodels like a forlorn Jimmie Rodgers; on other songs, he covers Americana pioneers Bascom Lamar Lunceford, "Mississippi" Fred McDowell, and Leroy Carr.
Before launching into a heartfelt nod to late musical great Othar Turner, Franklin joked that "we'll all be older when this song is over," then delivered the stirring elegy to a rapt audience. While he hasn't recorded that song yet, the tunes on Ballads, Songs & Snatches touch on similar fatalist themes: on "Lincoln," Franklin sings, "You may think you've done some living/You may think you've done some dying/You may think you've done the jitterbug/You may think you've said your lies," before blowing dust off the family hymnal for "We Shall All Be Reunited" and "By and By I'm Going To See the King." Meanwhile, Time and a Half rounds up 10 live cuts, outtakes, and unreleased songs, including the riveting "That's Just the Love I Have 4U," recorded live at Sleeping Cat Theatre, and two band tracks, the shimmering "Telegraph" and an art-rock toss-off called "Rinso."
Memphis is a town where the majority of musicians are criminally underrated, and in a Midtown scene that features much-lauded stars such as Jack Yarber and Harlan T. Bobo, Franklin is often overlooked. Yet he continues to soldier on. This year he's managed to release three albums on his own Miz Kafrin label and finish his first film, The Man Who Loved Couch Dancing. Keep your eyes peeled for his increasingly rare gigs, or visit his Web site, MizKafrin.com, for more information. You'll be glad you did.
Last week, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced nominations for the 48th annual Grammy Awards, scheduled to take place in February 2006. Congrats to both Bishop G.E. Patterson & Congregation and The North Mississippi Allstars, who garnered nods for Singing the Old Time Way and Electric Blue Watermelon, respectively. The Allstars, who were nominated in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category, are up against Buddy Guy's Bring 'Em In, which was recorded at Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio earlier this year. Kudos are also due to Ardent Studio, where Jack White mixed The White Stripes' multiple Grammy-nominated album Get Behind Me Satan, and Memphis Horns trumpeter Wayne Jackson, who played on Neil Young's Prairie Wind, also nominated in several categories.
Here in Memphis, music and photography often go hand-in-hand: Think William Eggleston's dye-transfer prints, which were reinterpreted as album covers for Big Star and Alex Chilton; Christian Patterson's enigmatic shots of The Bo-Keys and Calvin Newborn; Dan Ball's ghostly Grifters portraits; Dan Zarnstorff's rock and blues photos; and Yancey Allison's pictures of Othar Turner and Junior Kimbrough.
This month, music fans have two photography shows to visit. At Automatic Slim's Tonga Club, you can view David Leonard's photographs from the 2003 Soul Comes Home concert (including iconic shots of Sir Mack Rice, Solomon Burke, and Carla Thomas) through January, while at Memphis Originals, Charles Lee's hand-colored portraits of Memphis landmarks like the Antenna Club and Peter Pan's Pantry go on display December 16th.
Although The Reigning Sound have canceled their annual New Year's Eve concert at the Hi-Tone Café, don't put coal in Greg Cartwright's stocking just yet. The former Memphian teamed up with Robin Pack and Goner Records to release a vinyl-only limited-edition live album, which Pack captured during a performance at Goner last June. All proceeds from the release go to Goner's Hurricane Katrina Fund, which has helped displaced New Orleans and Gulf Coast musicians get back on their feet. For more information, go to GonerRecords.com.