I’ve written often about David Francey since he emerged – seemingly out of nowhere – in 1999 at age 45 as one of Canada’s greatest folk-rooted singer-songwriters. I’ve reviewed nearly all of his albums – he’s been a prolific recording artist over the past 17 years – and I’ve done newspaper and magazine features about him. My Sing Out! magazine feature from Fall 2005, "David Francey: A Working Man's Poetry," can be read here on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches blog.
With Empty Train, David offers 11 of his insightful, mostly timeless songs (one of which he co-wrote) and a fine version of “False Knight,” the traditional folk song.
The album opens with “Empty Train,” the compelling title track with a heartbeat arrangement featuring Mark Westberg on electric guitar, a texture I’m not used to hearing accompanying David. The insistent pattern of the electric guitar effectively conjures “the rattle of an empty train” that David describes hearing at a lonely train station Ashcroft, BC.
Perhaps the most moving songs are “Crucible,” written about his father and uncle’s service in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, and “Hospital” about visiting his father in the hospital.
“Crucible” describes his father and uncle’s navy duties in the war noting their too-quick growth “from young to old” and the tragic losses of their comrades who didn’t make it home while “Hospital” poignantly describes an old man nearing his end. The song was written in 2004 and David notes that his father did live to come home from that hospital stay – but not the next.
Other highlights include “The Money Boys,” a short, but very effective, topical song about bankers that David sings a cappella with son Colin Francey; “Big Texas Moon,” a love song with a bouncy old-time feel courtesy of Chris Coole’s banjo frailing; and “Blue Girl,” inspired by the National Film Board documentary Give Me Your Soul, which describes the emptiness of pornography and its eventual effect on an actress giving her soul to it.
David is currently on tour performing release concerts for Empty Train. Click here for the tour itinerary.