Everything about Athens, Ga.-based songwriter Betsy Franck feels like a throwback to a simpler, purer time. From her poodle-skirt first name to her voice — strong, clear, and unadorned, free of studio production bells and whistles — Franck and her gospel-tinged country-blues isn’t exactly the picture of a Top 40 catchy commodity.
Mix in the down and dirty backing musicians of the Bareknuckle Band — bassist Clint Swords, drummer Mike Strickland, keyboardist Damien, and lead guitarist Scott Leon O’Day — and her penchant for knowing exactly how to wring every last ounce of sexy swagger out of the simplest phrase, and Franck’s conundrum becomes a bit clearer.
By all rights, Franck should be more famous than she is, but the right people don’t know quite what to do with her. Her only proper studio album, a seven-song collection, came out in 2003, and she’s continued to play and tour, somewhat sporadically, over the last six years. YouTube evidence shows a trail of performances, some loud and blaring with the full weight of the BNB behind her, others quiet and beautifully intimate such as the grainy video revealing an inspired acoustic take on the gospel gem, “I’ll Fly Away.” The songs she’s penned herself sound more like “new” country, with twangy urgent guitars and meandering fiddle solos, and the lyrics spill clumsily from her mouth, as if written by a teenage girl discovering philosophy for the first time, particularly “Wet Hands.” A better bet for a Franck original is the slow burner “Closer” that weaves gently through a tried and true country theme (a guy down on his luck), which calls to mind something Sheryl Crow might wish she’d written 10 years ago.
Franck’s live performances prove she’s better than most of her earlier recorded work, and one can only imagine that she’s written new material since 2003, songs befitting a woman who managed to make “Amazing Grace” feel fresh again, with just a guitar and no tricks, like they might have in the old days.