DAN FRECHETTE & LAUREL THOMSEN – Driving By Candlelight (own label)

Driving By CandlelightA duo variously based in California’s Santa Cruz mountains (her) and Winnipeg (him), Driving By Candlelight is their fourth collection of self-penned Americana, she on violin and viola and he on pretty much anything else with strings, with Jimmy Norris on drums and Stan Poplin, whose CV includes stints with Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Muddy Waters and the Monterey Symphony, on upright bass.

Frechette on lead, it opens with ‘The Lucky One’, a mid-tempo number about following in your forefathers’ footsteps and the debt of inspiration they have left as their legacy, before, sung by Thomsen, the bluesier shades of ‘American Refugee’, from whence comes the album title, talks of economic decline and corporate and government corruption making you an exile in your own country and trying to find the strength to carry on in the common bonds we share.

It’s a theme of dislocation that weaves its way through such numbers as the rumbling rhythms and percussive groove of ‘Jester’ which talks of “the joy we forgot to spend”, fiddle dressed lament ‘The Crow Flies High’ (“what will come of all their pleas with wisdom scattered in the weeds”) and, Tim Osmond on banjo, the bluegrassy ‘The Seeds You Won’t Sow’ about addiction to social media devices (“There’s another hour been wasted, and another path foregone”).

These are balanced with songs treating more on love and relationships, among them Thomsen’s traditional-flavoured ‘Morning Time Lovers Waltz’, the melodically melancholic but lyrically upbeat ‘When You Come My Way’, Thomsen harmonising against Frechette’s lead, and the post-break up regrets and still lingering love of the sweetly sad duet ‘To Keep You Company’. There’s also a nice twist on ‘Mandolino Waltz’ with its lyrics about being too overwhelmed with love to pluck up the courage to ask for a dance, while the object of the singer’s affection is “quickly losing interest to that old man across the room.”

There’s versatility in musical styles too, ‘Ragtime Baby’ taking its cue from vintage New Orleans jazz, the gradually building, martial beat ‘Back From Heaven’ conjuring thoughts of Buffalo Springfield and ‘The Druid And The Fawn/The Landlord’s Brother/Petting Zoo’ being a guitar and fiddle instrumental medley that shapes from a contemplative air to asymmetric rhythms and, finally, a lively Canadian fiddle tune.

They close on a 60s-ish folk rock note with the strummed ‘New York City Sundance’, written just prior to 9/11, with its prophetic line about “I saw this whole world dying” counterpointed with the optimism and hope of the fiddle-fired surging, anthemic chorus “I’m young inside/And I’m living no lies/Loving something with my faith”. They may be driving by candlelight, but it’s on full beam.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.danandlaurel.ca

‘Morning Time Lovers Waltz’ – official video: