Sixteen year old Texas born singer/songwriter Summer Franklin proves age is no barrier to making substantive music. Her embrace of the traditional country sounds heard in her songwriting promises that her upcoming EP release will prove to be one of the genre’s best offerings this year. There’s a rare, wide-ranging sensibility in her writing that makes the personal universal, delineates character, and shows enormous descriptive powers all invested with a vibrant poetic veneer. The musicianship on her songs is first rate and, below all the frills and flourishes charactering some songs, you can hear the sound of her steady acoustic guitar playing giving the tracks their instrumental heart. There’s nothing cheap or overly commercialized about these performances. Instead, she gives herself over to listeners freely and completely and the result is an impressive array of songs that any performer would kill to open their careers with.
It’s a bit unfair to label her as a country performer and stop there. In 2017, we have a different idea of what constitutes country music and there’s no question that Franklin’s music doesn’t have a lot to do with the glossy country pop dominating the airwaves and Nashville currently. Songs like “Firefly”, “How Great Thou Art”, “The House that Built Me”, and “Travelin’ Soldier” hail from a much older place in this musical style. Despite that, however, Franklin’s approach never feels dated because she doesn’t perform so much as inhabit these songs and throws herself into them with a freshness and sense of purpose that revitalizes these seemingly moribund forms. Songs like “If I Die Young” strike an uniquely lyrical note that brings the genre’s rustic qualities together with elegiac poetics and a sure sense of life’s impermanence. She does have a commercial side, but never plays it up too heavily. Tracks like “It’s Gotta Be Love”, “Fence Post”, and “Automatic” are certainly more contemporary in a superficial way and clearly aim more for radio play than her more obviously personal numbers, but she never cheats listeners or gives her artistry short-shrift when she makes these turns. Instead, she seems just as free in those moments and the commitment to engaging her listeners connects just as solidly, albeit in a different way.
The tastefulness of her accompaniment is key to making these tracks work. Her upcoming release and all releases thereafter will be defined, somewhat, by where her initial recordings landed and she certainly exercises the right amount of restraint rather than playing up clichés for effect or else lapsing into outright imitation of her commercial superiors. There’s no question Summer Franklin is playing and writing for two sides – herself and the audience. This isn’t a performer craving the spotlight and willing to cut corners to realize that dream. She doesn’t have to. Talent, instead, wills out and she communicates vast emotions of feeling with seemingly little effort. Summer Franklin is born to do this and the artistry she brings to bear will be difficult for listeners to forget.
9 out of 10 stars