Music for the moment

Frankenreiter's look and sound are throwbacks to another era

August 24, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON | RASHOD D. OLLISON,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

He has the neo-hippie style down: the weird hats, vintage, loose-fitting clothes and stringy hair that falls past his shoulders. Like his look, his name is also curious: Donavon Frankenreiter.

So when it comes to music, the singer-songwriter-musician goes for the quirky: an amalgamation that unabashedly evokes sounds of yesterday.

On Move By Yourself, Frankenreiter's latest album, the artist concocts an organic, blues-based fusion of blaxploitation funk and '70s soft rock. It's all overlaid with pop-slanted lyrics that mostly take a wide-eyed look at love's bright side. Elements of the Eagles, Al Green, Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers mingle throughout the 11-track CD.

"I feel like I'm playing music where people enjoy the moment," says Frankenreiter, who headlines Washington's 9:30 Club tonight. "Don't worry about tomorrow. Let's have a good time because we have right now. I hope the music conveys that."

Move By Yourself is the follow-up to his 2004 self-titled debut, which was overseen by his buddy Jack Johnson. Like his former producer, Frankenreiter is a professional surfer-cum-musician. The laid-back life spent mostly on the beach informed the languid flow of that record, which echoed Johnson's releases. But this time out, Frankenreiter wanted to distance himself from the lazy, folkish acoustic guitar-and-soft-percussion sound that dominated his first album.

"I don't want to put out the same record over and over," says the performer, 33, who's calling from his home in his native Laguna Beach, Calif. "Musicians are human, and we change, and I want that in the music."

Move By Yourself , the singer's first album for Lost Highway Records, is a left turn toward a grittier sound suffused with the kind of vibrant blues-funk grooves that emanated from Memphis' Stax studios in the 1970s. The album's mellowness, though, is maintained by Frankenreiter's stoned, hushed vocals that, at times, recall Ben Harper.

"It was fun to get a band together this time and create a vibe," the musician says. "We recorded [the album] live with vintage instruments. It was the best moment for me in making music."

A professional surfer since age 16, Frankenreiter taught himself to play guitar while traveling around the world for shows and competitions. He started singing five years ago.

"At the end of that career, it made sense for me to make a record," Frankenreiter says. "It was nice to have a friend like Jack to introduce me to the music world through his label [Brushfire]. It was like, `Let's make a record and see where it goes.' There was room for growth."

Although Move By Yourself is a bold step, Frankenreiter hasn't established a distinct musical identity. His vocals and songwriting can be tentative and faceless. The CD is a "genre record," more representative of a certain sound than the artist.

The album opens with the title track, which extols being self-directed and free-spirited. A churchy, organ-driven intro melts into a pumping groove that brings to mind Talking Book-era Stevie Wonder. Frankenreiter sings, "Don't stop doing what you believe in/Don't let 'em put you on a shelf/You gotta move by yourself." Next, the artist merges Jamiroquai and Al Green on "The Way It Is," a mid-tempo floater spiced with wah-wah guitar and whimsical, unobtrusive string flourishes.

In the middle, Move By Yourself settles into a slow-burning, soft rock-soul fusion that lacks energy. But the pace picks up a bit with "Fool," perhaps the bluesiest number on the album. Riding a strutting beat, the song is emblazoned with a nice, understated electric guitar solo by Frankenreiter.

"I wanted the musicians to feel the grooves and get into it," he says. "I didn't want it to be too overproduced - just four musicians in the studio having a good time."

Like the clothes he wears, Frankenreiter shamelessly celebrates another time on Move By Yourself.

"There was something about the way those old soul records were recorded then," he says. "You had all these beautiful imperfections. It was real. That's what I want my music to be."

See Donavon Frankenreiter tonight at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. N.W. in Washington, at 7:30. Tickets are $18 and are available through tickets.com or by calling 800-955-5566.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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