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Album Review: Jon Fratelli ‘Bright Night Flowers’

Anytime someone mentions Roy Orbison, Tom Waits, and Glenn Campbell, I’m all ears. There’s something to be said when someone lists off influences who just so happen to be prolific, timeless singer-songwriters. Call it street cred, kudos, or just plain old ‘knowing their stuff,’ it definitely gets brownie points in my book.

Multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and front man of the Fratellis, John Fratelli knows the greats, and it’s evident, especially on his latest record. His second solo record, “Bright Night Flowers” is being released on Friday, Feb. 15 via Cooking Vinyl.

Recorded in Scotland last year, the album was self-produced with the help of Stuart McCredie (Simple Minds, Echo & The Bunnymen, Belle & Sebastian, The Fratellis).

This time around, Fratelli’s work originates from a piano — almost all of the songs were written on the keys. “It seemed like the most natural counterpoint to the last album: to move away from fairly loud and colorful songs – some of which were built from mash ups of various ideas — to something gentle that rolled with a bit more fluidity,” Fratelli said.

“After a While” delivers a beautifully poignant combination of piano and heartfelt strings. The swells and the decay of the strings can be used as a metaphor for the album’s contrasting spectrum of life’s emotions. highs, lows, and everything in between — delivered sometimes in a classical worldly, refined package. Other times, life gives you a dusty, country-twinged, simple, bare-bones mindset like the record’s fourth track, “Evangeline.”

Almost half-way through the record, Fratelli keeps on rolling through with “Rolling By,” another piano-driven ditty, reminiscent of an old-timey lovesick standard.

Go to the end, I think it’s time. I didn’t have the nerve to make you mine, and though I’ll keep you near me, you might forget me completely. Turn off the light, and lock the door. One last time like we did before. If I hear that you faded, I’ll know somehow that you made it. You’ll be rolling by. 

“Crazy Lovers Song” starts with the twangy guitars you might expect from a Southerns saloon, but perhaps not a Scottish Fratelli. It’s such a sonic surprise, especially for someone who fronted the ’80s-inspired synth indie rock band. Previous work might have led you to think British rock opera, not Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. But here, we’re pleasantly surprised yet again. It’s nearly a six-minute country/folk song, but it never drags by, or feels contrived.

We could dance along to some crazy lover’s song. Watching you twirl, beautiful girl. Though I may have dreamed you.

On “Bright Night Flowers,” you hear all kinds of stories, delivered in all kinds of different soundscapes on the nine-track album. They’re not loud songs — they’re somewhat melancholy, yet lush, beautiful compositions. Arching life lessons delivered through an uplifting lullaby-like sound quality. It’s not all sleepy though, Fratelli keeps his wits about him with playful lyrics and his witty takes on life, sprinkled throughout “Bright Night Flowers.”

“I’d describe this album as playful as well, actually,” Fratelli said. “Heartbreak and emotional pain can also be playful when you know that they’re not to be taken too seriously. Equally, you can’t know pleasure without its opposite. In that respect, black is equally as joyful as white. Life would be very dull if happiness was the only experience, wouldn’t it?”

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah's a little bit of a rock 'n' roll rebel, almost always at a concert. She loves to soak up the scene, immersed in the music journalism world, still buys CDs and rents music documentaries from the library. Just don't call her a hipster. She's never been that stylish.

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