It’s the ultimate pastime of the introvert: spending time alone in a crowd, contemplating the dynamics of the characters around you, reflecting on their emotional lives, reflecting on your emotional life.
On Empty Train, three-time Juno winner David Francey elevates the practice to high art.
The long-time manual labourer-turned-revered singer-songwriter populates Empty Train with the lonely, faceless patrons of a Yukon night club (“Mirror Ball”); hospital patients who “might get home but you never know” (“Hospital”); working class heroes in the form of sailors, signalers and stokers (“Crucible”); and women seeking to escape their circumstances through the sex trade (“Blue Girl”).
And then there’s the man who struck up a conversation with Francey on a flight in California: a real life California football coach heading to the Holy Land, hoping to cheer up Palestinian children for a moment with his handful of magic tricks (“Holy Land”).
Francey contemplates each of their circumstances, singing with sensitive, weathered vocals, accompanied by beautifully spare acoustic arrangements, courtesy of long-time collaborators Mark Westberg (guitars), Chris Coole (banjo and guitar), and Darren McMullen (mandolin, bouzouki, etc.). Fiddlers John Showman (New Country Rehab) and Rachel Davis (Còig) guest, along with Francey’s son, Colin, who contributes some guitar and backing vocals.
As he has for eleven straight albums now, David draws listeners into the emotional power of his stories using nothing but his incisive way with language, his ear for a catchy melody, and his deep and obvious empathy for people who are struggling – no fancy production or orchestration required.
In fact, the album was recorded in a rustic cabin North of Havelock, Ont.
Francey, as many by now know, has been documenting the lives of the poor and working class almost his entire life.
A proud physical labourer from a proud working class Scottish immigrant family, he spent more than 30 years toiling in the Toronto rail yards, the Yukon bush and the Eastern Townships’ construction sites – hitchhiking across Canada at least three times in the process – all the while quietly chronicling in song the triumphs and hardships of life in the trenches.
He played no instruments, never aspired to a career in music, and only reluctantly took to the stage at the age of 45 under pressure from friends and family.
The reaction was instant.
Within two years, he’d won his first Juno, was touring internationally, and got to thinking that perhaps he should quit his construction job and try this music thing full time for a while.
Since then, he’s won two more Junos and been nominated a total of five times. His songs have been covered by the Del McCoury Band, the Rankins, the Barra McNeils and Tracy Grammer – among countless others – and his “Skating Rink” video aired several times on Hockey Day in Canada, earning Francey the fandom of host Ron MacLean. He performs regularly at some of the world’s most prestigious music festivals – Tonder in Denmark, Port Fairy in Australia – and he’s been the subject of a nationally-televised feature documentary (Burning Bright).
He has also won the respect of songwriters across the musical spectrum for his seemingly effortless ability to turn out songs that seem destined to become classics. “Junkie’s Heart” on Empty Train is a co-write with two such fans: Colin and John-Angus MacDonald of the roots rock outfit the Trews.
Long ago, the Georgia Straight called Francey “The closest thing Canada has to Woody Guthrie.”
More recently, Exclaim wrote, “It can be argued that David Francey has had more impact than any old-school Canadian folk songsmith since the late great Stan Rogers.”
Now more than 15 years into his career, with not a miss among his eleven albums, it won’t be long before Francey himself becomes a standard-bearer for the next generation of promising songwriters.
In support of his new album, David Francey will be touring Canada and United States throughout 2016. For his full schedule, please visit http://www.davidfrancey.com
David Francey is a Scottish-born Canadian carpenter-turned-songwriter, who has become known as “one of Canada’s most revered folk poets and singers” (Toronto Star). Born in Ayrshire, Scotland to parents who were factory workers, he moved to Canada when he was twelve. For decades, he worked across Canada in rail yards, construction sites, and in the Yukon bush, all the while writing poetry, setting it to melodies in his head and singing it to himself as he worked.
A truly authentic folk singer, Francey is a documentarian of the working person who never imagined earning a living from his music. But when he was in his 40s, his wife, artist Beth Girdler, encouraged him to share his songs and sing in public. The reaction was instant. His first album Torn Screen Door came out in 1999 and was a hit in Canada. Since then, he has released eleven albums, won three Juno Awards and has had his songs covered by such artists as The Del McCoury Band, The Rankin Family, James Keelaghan and Tracy Grammer.
Francey also had the honour of receiving the prestigious SOCAN Folk Music Award as well as taking home the Grand Prize in both the International Acoustic Music Award and in the Folk category for the John Lennon Songwriting Award.
“David’s straightforward songs tell honest stories of real people and real places. Poetic perception and a keen eye for the heart of the matter are trademarks of the man and his music. His songs and stories are a direct connection for audiences seeking depth and meaning in the day-to-day.” Shelter Valley Folk Festival
David Francey was born in Ayrshire, Scotland where he got his first taste of the working life as a paperboy. At age 10 he was devouring the newspapers he delivered, establishing a life-long interest in politics and world events while developing the social conscience that forms the backdrop of his songs.
He was twelve when his family immigrated to Toronto. He says he can trace his love of the land, the history, and the people of his adopted country to weekend family drives exploring southern Ontario. Music played a large part in these family outings. They sang traditional Scottish tunes as they drove through the Canadian countryside. Dad and sister Muriel sang melody, while mother and David sang harmonies.
His attachment to Canada grew with travel. He hitched across the country three times, then thumbed his way to the Yukon. This attachment surfaces in his songs of rail lines, farms, and the St. Lawrence Seaway. He grew to understand the people while working in Toronto train yards, the Yukon bush, and as a carpenter in the Eastern Townships. These experiences colour his first CD, Torn Screen Door, with songs like Hard Steel Mill, Gypsy Boys, and Working Poor and his second, Far End of Summer, with Highway, Flowers of Saskatchewan and February Morning Drive.
In concert David is a singer and a storyteller. His wry humour and astute observations combined with his openhearted singing style have earned him a loyal following.
David lives with his wife, artist Beth Girdler and in the quiet but charming Lanark Highlands in southern Ontario. They are visited often by their son Colin, daughters Amy and Julia and grandkids Tristan and Alice.
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