Sir Charles Panther | Alexandria, Virginny, USandA | 01/17/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a must-have recording for the confirmed Michael Franks fan, the devotee keen on completing the collection, and it should come at the end of your acquisition, although most definitely in front of the corporate-regurgitated "best of" and "love song" releases. The sound here is not the samba-infused, ultra-romantic and smooth of Abandoned Garden, and it's not the playfully poetic and highly imaginative jazz of The Art of Tea, nor is it the rocking guitar-fusion of The Camera Never Lies. The sound is heavily early 70s country-rock California. The work does communicate a general theme, that of a young artist leaving home and making his way, wary yet confident in his abilities and direction, focused, finding his voice and themes, and both the distractive and comforting contexts in which it all occurs. This is relatively raw stuff, yet to my mind still an excellent effort, and a solid addition to the library of the true Michael Franks listener.
This collection does show us the maturing Michael, and we've got a number of the themes and shading that came to really define his later work. You can hear his signature lyrical wordplay and imaginative lyrics emerging. The singularly imaginative and playful, cinema- and tropics-influenced lyrics aren't prominent or as developed as in later albums, but there are the indications of things to come. There are name checks on Fred Astaire, Coltraine, Shakespeare, Bogey and Bacall, Ravel. You've got the nod to Key Largo, the anti-Los Angeles, "earthquake town" riffs.
There are 10 tracks at a total of 37:43, with an average track length of 3:47. The longest is "Born With the Moon in Virgo" at 6:13, and the shortest "Dobro Ladies" at 2:46.
The opener, "Can't Seem to Shake This Rock N' Roll" is a fascinating tune. It's an over-the-top mix of under-arranged horns too in front of the mix, with a sax solo, a Shaft-like highly fuzzed-out guitar swinging in and out of the mix on rhythm, and a violin solo a la Jean-Luc Ponty. It's an interesting song that appears to me to be cramming way too much into 4:18.
There's a great deal of the country-rock sound and influence in this work, and it comes through on a number of tracks, with fiddle highlights in "Just Like Key Largo," and clearly coming through on "Dobro Ladies." You've got the lyrical nod to the dulcimer on "When Blackbirds Fly." All of "Life's Little Highway" rings with heavy country influence, with a lot of fiddle responding to each verse and banjo concluding the verses, and even the junebug-like thrum of a Jew's harp behind the smooth fiddle, taking the tune out. Of course, you've got the ode to down-home familiarity and rejection of the rat race with "King of Oklahoma."
"When Blackbirds Fly" is an interesting diversion, opening as a simple ballad about getting away with the lady, the longing to be together alone and just make music. But then Michael sings of her making bread while he makes beer. Then he's singing a refrain about making babies on Mars and being "the Adam and Eve of Mars." It's lyrical fantasy, and the imagery is interesting if a bit far from the opening bars, but it fits into the rhyme just fine.
"Lovesick Lizzie" is a horn-heavy tune finding Michael asserting early "I'm no Christian" and wanting to "milk (her) cow." He's the strutting "midnight milkman" who's "come to deliver a pint of cream." It's a serious yet also mild rocker with a pseudo-New Orleans theme, an ode to a shotgun-toting tease driving him nuts. The theme is classic dirty blues, but the up-tempo delivery takes a bit away from the, ahem, thrust of the tune.
"King of Oklahoma" is heavily country rock, a rejection of California ambition and the joy of returning home, where things are simple, where you're known valued truly. There's a guitar bridge and solo that in its orchestration and modulation sounds like it was lifted right out of the solo from the Eagles' "Take It Easy."
My personal favorite is "Three Today." It opens close to blasphemous, with "I used to believe in Jesus, but I don't anymore/Is it booze or rouge that makes his cheeks so red?" There's the verse of admission that he was a failure as an athlete, not living up to the achievements and by implication the expectations of his father. There's the disgust with LA and the hard frustration of trying to make it as a musician. But at the end of each confessional verse comes "And my little son is three today/I bounced him on my knee today/He told me loved me." That's the entire refrain and, of course, that's all he needs to say. As Dad to a young son, this is song grabbed on the first listen. It's a fantastic, simple tune, an homage to the wonder and beauty of a little man, to any child, and that innate power to keep you grounded, focused, and tuned in to what really matters in the world.
In conclusion, if you're new to Michael Franks hold off getting this release. Buy The Art of Tea, One Bad Habit, Abandoned Garden, Blue Pacific, Skin Dive, or The Camera Never Lies first (in that order). These will give you a solid grounding in the mature, highly produced and poetic Michael Franks, his signature sound and themes, his "hits" and the classics beloved by his fans. If you enjoy each of these CDs and choose to call yourself a true fan, then you may be ready to step into the Wayback Machine to the very beginning of his career and hear where he's come from, where his roots lie."
Funky, emotional, full of sexual, emotion and cocain imagery
Mark D. Prouse | 05/25/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first heard of michael franks from a Thai friend. This music was laid back and very cool. There are elements of funky beat in the'rock and roll junky', there are the references to midnight milking and creaming, cocain lines and love, the desert walk abouts and dobros, Coltraine and other giants. This guy is a musical talent, playing all the instruments and putting them together. Of course he gets other very special people in there as well. A definitive in cool."
Kurt Harding | Boerne TX | 10/11/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Though I have been a fan of Michael Franks for going on 30 years now, I always ignored Previously Unavailable when I saw it in the bins. After all, my experience with "early" and "newly discovered old" recordings was that they had been buried in the archives for good reason. But after reading the mostly positive reviews here and seeing the price was right, I decided to hear it for myself. It took a few listens before I really liked much of it. But now that I know it from start to finish, I conclude that its not at all the schlock I feared. Some listeners heard a lot of California country-rock. I did not. While many stereotypically country instruments were used on some of the songs (dulcimer, mandolin, and banjo), I would not classify those songs as country-rock. Musically, about the closest comparison to this undiscovered Franks I can make would be to some of the work of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and to some of Ian Matthews Southern Comfort. Here are my favorites: 1)Can't Seem To Shake This Rock and Roll: Lyrically just OK, but with some great instrumental passages. 2)When Blackbirds Fly: a sweet romantic fantasy. 3)Lovesick Lizzie: Very humorous and risque. Franks, often suggestive, is almost blatantly so here: "I'm a midnight milkman, no need to scream. I just came to deliver a pint of cream". 4)Three Today-mildly blasphemous and a bittersweet look at the struggles and joys of life. Nice mandolin solo. 5)Born With the Moon In Virgo-More blasphemy, lyrically excellent, and the jazziest cut on the CD. Great instrumentation is almost Deodato-like in the arrangement. And, along with Just Like Key Largo, the song that gives the best hints as to his future direction. If you are a Michael Franks fan and have avoided this CD for reasons similar to mine, avoid it no longer. Previously Unavailable is a delicious group of songs that stand tall with the rest of Franks' oeuvre."
A Pint Of Cream, Oh Yeah!
Mark D. Prouse | Riverdale (Bronx), NY | 06/29/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As others have pointed out, Franks' debut is not the cool Brazilian-inspired jazz his fans have come to expect. However, I've been listening to Franks for a LONG time, and this was actually the second of his records I ever heard. I bought it in a cutout bin for a buck and it wasn't even that old at the time; the cover was different (the close-up photo of a young, long-haired Michael was partly what caught my attention, and it should have been used for the reissue, with the picture used here on the back; as a designer, that would have been my choice). Anyway, because of songs like "The Lady Wants to Know," "Down In Brazil," "The Eye Of The Storm," and "Antonio's Song (The Rainbow)" from SLEEPING GYPSY, I was already a committed Franks fan when I heard this. Okay, so this album is very different from any of his others, but it is not only fascinating for the varied styles he was trying out, it's clear that his witty writing style was already well developed. In fact there is more risqué humor and daring philosophical commentary in these songs than on many of his later efforts, and this set is still one of my favorite MF albums. "Lovesick Lizzie" always makes me smile, and it, along with "Born With The Moon In Virgo," might raise some eyebrows, even now -- but then Franks has never been shy with words, and any subject is fair game, whether it be sex or religion.
A singer who has recently resurfaced on a long overdue series of first-time-on-CD albums, Wendy Waldman, plays dulcimer and sings backup on a couple of tracks here, and there are also several well known sidemen from both the rock and jazz worlds helping out, including a young Tom Scott. Fans of the Michael Franks we all know and love today will notice that "Just Like Key Largo" proves that his present style had its beginnings here. I would give this five stars, but this is a rather short CD (it could have used some bonus tracks), and I should emphasize that there is no cohesive style here. It's all over the map; a little folk, a little country, some straight ahead rock and hints of jazz. What ties this experimental work together is a fine lyrical sensibility, something that would blossom on his next album, THE ART OF TEA. For any big fan of Mr. Franks who's managed to miss this first effort, and is curious about his beginnings, PREVIOUSLY UNAVAILABLE is a must."