By Rick Koster
Publication: The Day
You could argue that "An Evening With the Franklin Brothers," a concert taking place tonight in the Oasis Room of New London's Garde Arts Center, is a booking based around convenience. After all, Carl Franklin's PWOP Studios, where the sophisticated pop-funk band rehearses and records, is about 90 feet from the venue.
"Yeah, it would be pretty easy to put the drums on the elevator, walk across State St., and be ready to play," Carl Franklin laughs. "But we've known (the Garde's) Jeanne and Steve Sigel for years, and hopefully it's about the music."
"Carl and (brother) Jay Franklin ooze music," says Steve Sigel, executive director at the Garde. "It would be detrimental to their health, not to mention the local music scene, to not provide the best platform for their writing, producing, recording, singing, playing and musical collaboration."
The Franklin Brothers aren't the first local artists to headline the Oasis. Westerly wunderkind crooner Nicholas King, ex-Coast Guard Band director Lew Buckley and his New Orleans All Stars, and noted New York jazz guitarist Tosh Sheridan, a Waterford native, have performed there.
But the Franklins are the first with some ties to the renowned New London rock scene. Their "New London Blues" won the Best Blues-Rock Performance trophy at the 2011 Whalie Awards, the annual ceremony honoring the local music community. And Sigel hopes this show will be the start of a new trend at the Garde facility.
"The Franklin Brothers are a prelude to a gradually expanding presence of great regional musical talent here at the Garde," Sigel says. "New London's music scene, the artists and venues here in the city and throughout the region, is one of our great cultural assets."
The brothers have in fact been active for several years, from the days when guitarist/vocalist Carl and keyboardist/vocalist Jay played cover tune gigs in restaurants.
Over time, they've formed and maintained a loose aggregate of top-quality players knows as the Franklin Brothers Band - an outfit whose material, sophisticated arrangements and fluid live performances summon images of Steely Dan, Toy Matinee and Galactic.
The band's latest CD, "Lifeboat to Nowhere," released at the start of the year, contains 10 intricate, stylistically adventurous and hooky tunes, including "New London Blues" as well as standouts such as "I've Been to the Waters," "Rue Marie" and "Her Ringtone."
Tonight's performance will be tripartite. As a thematic nod to the past, Carl and Jay will start out doing a set as an acoustic duo. A middle segment focuses on material from a new solo album by Carl, and the headline portion of the evening will feature the 11-piece Franklin Brothers Band, including a horn section and background vocalists, playing the entire "Lifeboat to Nowhere" from top to bottom. Also on the set list will be "Mike's Backyard," a Franklin Brothers song recently included on a sampler CD from Good Sponge Records, a burgeoning New London independent label.
"'Mike's Backyard' will be pretty special," Carl says. "It's got a great groove, and we're going to pass out shakers and cowbells and tambourines amongst the audience and put the lyrics up on the wall. Very audience participation."
The middle section of the show also will be a bit of a surprise. Carl will lead his own band - Carl Franklin & Solvo, which admittedly has some crossover players including Jay - and will perform material from an impending album called "Been a While."
"It would have been a regular Franklin Brothers album, but my wife and daughters went to Hawaii on girls' vacation," Carl explains. "Jay has a nine-to-five job and three kids and they weren't on vacation. So I decided I had a week and I was going to use the time to make a record."
Franklin contacted several top players and basically hired them to be available 24/7 for a week.
"We did six songs in six days, and it was a blast," Carl says. "The mantra for the material on the album was, 'If it doesn't have a groove, it's not going on the CD.'"
On his own, Carl played all the instruments and recorded a few other tunes he thought fit on the record, then mixed it down and pressed it so "Been a While" would be available for purchase - along with the Franklin Brothers recordings - at tonight's performance.
A funny thing happened to "Been a While," though. While the Franklin Brothers Band was rehearsing for the Oasis Room show and have a horn section, they worked up new brass parts for the material from Carl's solo album. The arrangements sounded so good that Carl has decided to go back, record the horns, and add them to the previous mixes. But the remixed album won't be available tonight.
"Instead, the original recording will be available as a pre-release special, and people can get vouchers and we'll get them the new version as soon as it's ready," Carl says. "This seems like a fun way to at least make the songs available for now."
As Sigel suggests, the Franklins do sort of ooze music, and the set-up for the Garde show seems an optimal way to demonstrate such things. But, as Carl says, it's he and his brother who feel lucky.
"We're so privileged to work with some of the finest musicians in the area," he says. "We're, like, holy crap! What are we doing with musicians like this? On a good night, though, between the players and the audience, I like to think that it's all a mutual admiration society."
What: "An Evening With the Franklin Brothers"
When: 8 p.m. tonight
Where: Oasis Room, Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London
How much: $25
For more information: (860) 444-7373, gardearts.org