There’s an expectation with certain artists that their new material will be either “gloomy” or “cheery”. A lot of English bands – particularly those from up North – tend to fit into the former camp. But with musicians like Donovan Frankenreiter and his best mate, fellow surfer-turned-folk musician, Jack Johnson, it’s definitely the latter.
It therefore comes as no surprise that Frankenreiter’s fifth solo album, Start Livin’ doesn’t deviate from this positive theme and it is rather pleasant and smooth. But this also doesn’t mean things are formulaic, just that it all fuses well with the tropical wonderland-infused material he has previously released- because he doesn’t throw the listener too many unexpected curveballs.
The truth is Frankenreiter is still a sun child at heart. At 39 years of age, he is happily married with kids and this serene bliss shines through his charming blend of folk-pop. He has described this record as a “Love album,” one inspired by his family and the life they’ve built together in Hawaii.
Perhaps the most exciting component from this effort is the attention to detail that has been paid to the instrumentation. Without a drum kit, Frankenreiter and his long-time bassist, Matt Grundy experimented with pots, pans, bells, bowls, lighters and even make-shift shakers made from beans and salts in cans. It was a simple process that helped create the bells, whistles and other flourishes that accentuate these love letters. This also means that these homespun trinkets lend things a clean and charming sound that really moves you.
The title track opens proceedings with a simple message, to “Celebrate tonight” and “Start living”. It boasts groovy guitar, hand-claps and is a positive instruction to just let go and enjoy the moment, allowing the joy to envelope you like a warm hug. It is also a reflection of the sort of person this artist is now; full of optimism and one could say a testimony to a life well lived. And Donovan’s love obviously plays a star role in all this, not to mention a big part in “Shine”. It boasts a calm sway and is like a slow dance about the enduring power of love.
On “You” Frankenreiter could be standing on a beach with a flower in hand. It’s a happy ditty with a skipping beat that could be by his mate, Jack Johnson. In writing “Same Lullaby,” Frankenreiter found himself counting his blessings after a tragedy. He decided he had an almost primitive desire for people to put down their weapons and get together and sing the same lullaby. He wanted everyone to get on the same wavelength, if only for one moment and in many ways this makes it rather reminiscent of Ben Lee’s “We’re All In This Together”.
The album also includes the tribute, “A.I.,” written for Andy Irons who passed away in November 2011. It’s a gentle ode and sounds like the wind coming off the trees while Frankenreiter sings about wanting to share just one more moment with his lost mate. Such events have clearly matured this artist and made him all the more thankful for his lot in life. As he sums up on “Together Forever” it’s all about “Two kids and an island in the sun”.
Ultimately, Start Livin’ is the kind of record that sits somewhere between the enthusiasm for family and the world that John Butler typically sings about, as well as Josh Pyke’s letters to his sweetheart. It’s calm and cool and often like little, golden rays of sunshine that you’ll want to share at a gathering around a campfire, on a back porch, around the kitchen table or on the family couch. The main theme is togetherness and being appreciative for this life. With its sweet charm and optimism, it’ll no doubt earn Frankenreiter some new friends and fans and this Don’s so great that you just know he’s always at the ready to reciprocate with some kind words. In short, Start Livin’ will ensure that everybody’s gonna be happy.
Originally published on 21 May 2012 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/nd/albumreviews/start_livin_donavon_frankenreiter
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