Chicago-raised singer-songwriter Layla Frankel set off with her Little Martian guitar in the fall of 2015 to travel Europe. The following spring, Frankel spent two months hiking 600 miles on the Israel National Trail. On her hike, she carried a children’s book, The Little Prince. It was the combination of this book and these travels that the inspired the singer’s debut album Tame the Fox, released April 25, 2017.
The 6-song release, produced and arranged by Frankel and recorded by Josh Richter, is a beautiful collection of bluesy folk tunes filled with rich tones and rhythms. It features a number of talented musicians such as guitarist and bassist Dave Hildebrand, drummer Robert Rashid and Eddie Ganet on keys.
The album opens strong with “To Disregard”. Right away, Frankel shows off her cool and smoky vocals with the lines “I’m gonna light a match in the morning and blow it out before the flame is gone”. The song is driven by a steady rhythm section and the occasional guitar lick bringing in some color. A guitar solo springs up middle-song that is simple yet exquisite with just enough string bending to add to the bluesy vibes.
Things slow down a bit with “Tenderly”. Here, listeners are treated to a jazzier side of Frankel as she sings about the tender love of a rough loving man. While the intonation of Frankel’s vocals is great, more power and fullness could have added a needed edge to the tune. Again, the subtle guitar riffs on lead were the perfect touch; standing out enough for notice without overpowering surrounding instrumentals.
If there is any song on the album that most relates to The Little Prince, it’s “Creature of Habit”. Opening with a funky, upbeat keys line, the piece builds into something fun and uplifting while the driving rhythm sections push the song and uphold a youthful energy. While there is nothing particularly elemenatry about the song, a mind’s eye can’t help to picture vibrant young souls dancing to this tune. It’s simply fun and pure of joy.
A personal favorite, “Alamosa”, holds the name of a city and popular tourist destination in Colorado. The piece opens with a simple rhythmic guitar before Frankel comes to with her storytelling. There’s something ear-twerking about the chorus. So simple and easy, like a classic tune from the golden age of folk and Americana. There’s an underlying sadness in the vocals, yet the harmonies hold an eerie beauty as Frankel sings “all along the road to Alamosa/can you hear the stars against the wind/ every step is a little closer/ to turning around and going on home again”.
The somber beauty continues with “If I Had the Words”. The song showcases nothing but Frankel’s vocals and the guitar. It’s a quick piece, but memorable as it’s the first time listeners get to hear the exceptionalism behind Frankel’s vocal work, which finally sounds full against nothing but the picking of the guitar.
Closing out the album is another personal favorite “Just Like Heaven”. Lyrically and vocally, it’s a standout from the album, especially as it comes to the closing verse: “I must have been asleep for days/ moving lips to breathe her name/ I open up my eyes/ found myself alone, alone, alone above a raging sea/ that stole the only girl I loved/ drowned her deep inside of me”. It’s poetic, pretty and the perfect closing note.
Layla Frankel’s next performance will be on Sunday, April 30th at SPACE in Evanston.