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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‘Morning Time Lovers Waltz’ – official video:

Dan Frechette & Laurel Thomsen announce new album

Dan Frechette & Laurel Thomsen

As with their previous three albums, Canadian-American Roots-Folk duo Dan Frechette & Laurel Thomsen ponder contemporary subject matter with vintage sensibility in their fourth release, Driving By Candlelight. Featuring diverse guitar styles, dynamic and emotionally expressive violin and viola arrangements, and vocal chemistry reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, these 13 original songs cover the range of Roots based genres, from Folk-Rock, Ragtime, and Bluegrass, to Celtic, Latin, and Pop. With some songs written as far back as 1993 while others as recently as 2018, Dan and Laurel share a unique fusion of backgrounds, perspectives, and influences, gained over the 25 years plus they have each spent as musicians, writers, and recording artists. Rounding out a number of tracks are the grooves of Stan Poplin, upright bass master who’s performed with the likes of Dave Brubeck and Muddy Waters, as well as Santa Cruz, California’s most in-demand session player, Jimmy Norris, on drums and percussion, and finally, Winnipeg’s celebrated banjo player, Tim Osmond on ‘The Seeds That You Won’t Sow ‘. Frechette’s multi-instrumental capabilities also present a number of cameo appearances, ranging from harmonica and ukulele to autoharp and resonator lap slide guitar.

As a metaphor for trying to find one’s way through uncertain times and the need to harness faith to carry one through, Driving By Candlelight, a lyric from ‘American Refugee’, is a theme which weaves throughout the album. From the tender duet ‘To Keep You Company’, to the tribal rhythms and lush string arrangements of ‘Crow Flies High’, the epic soundscapes of ‘Back From Heaven’, and the prophetic undertones of folk-rock anthem ‘New York City Sundance’, written just weeks before 9/11, Dan and Laurel showcase a maturity in both their emotional capacity as musicians and their songwriting process, exploring universal lyrical and musical worlds to bring audiences together.

Even their “lighter fare” showcase deeper subject matter and tasteful arrangements not to be overlooked, such as ‘The Seeds that You Won’t Sow’, a bluegrass genre “update” about device addiction, ‘Jester’, with its “Folk Scare” grooves and fictitious protagonist, urging us to remember our innocence and find joy in simplicity, the New Orleans vintage jazz inspired ‘Ragtime Baby’, and the instrumental ‘Druid’ set, moving seamlessly between contemplative and mystical themes, to driving, asymmetric rhythms, and finally, a nod to the buoyancy and joy of Canadian fiddle music.

Meeting in 2012 via a chance YouTube sighting and fueled by a once in a lifetime musical chemistry and friendship, Dan and Laurel are “prodigious players with songwriting that sets them apart”. The duo has toured North America extensively, logging 150 dates a year since 2013 and playing everything from Home Routes house concert tours of Canada, to the Listening Room Festival in Florida, the definitive Winnipeg Folk Festival, and opening up for the Wailin’ Jennys. In 2017 they made their European debut, with concerts in Ireland, Denmark, the UK, France, and Germany. However, hard work and dedication are only one facet of Dan and Laurel’s partnership. Dividing their time between California’s Santa Cruz Mountains and Winnipeg when not on the road, it’s obvious to anyone who observes these two that their harmony extends well beyond their music.

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Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.danandlaurel.ca

‘Mandolino Waltz’ – live: