Album Review: PAULO FRANCO – “The Last Card”

At first glance, Paulo Franco seems to be an anachronism. How could a guy with Colombian parents write and sing great, authentic country music?  Paulo was born and raised in the Washington D.C. area (and now lives in Richmond, Virginia), but his parents are from Colombia. He grew up listening to both Colombian and American music (his father was a huge fan of Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell), so his songs reflect those dual influences. Paulo began playing classical guitar at the age of 9. He spent a few years playing in a cover band, but decided to begin writing his own music in 2008. Most of his compositions meld old school country, rock and blues, drawing inspiration from the likes of Steve Earle, Hank Williams, John Hiatt, Slaid Cleaves, Chris Knight, Gram Parsons, the Rolling Stones, the Drive By Truckers and The Grateful Dead. He recorded his first album By The Light Of A Paper Moon in 2012, followed by an EP of tunes co-written with his friend Shane Cooley a year later.

More recently, he started writing songs in Spanish, fusing traditional Latin and Colombian rhythms with American rock and roll.  With his backing band the Freightliners (which is comprised of four talented musicians: Dan Sessler on lead guitar, Dave Hess and drums and backing vocals, Chad Bennett on bass, and Doug Thompson, also on bass), Paulo has released a solid new album The Last Card, featuring 13 songs, ten in English and three in Spanish. The combination of country, country rock, and Latin tunes on one album is pure delight.

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Paulo’s songs address themes common in a lot of songs – life, love and relationships, and the joy, pain and disappointment that emanate from them. And like many country tunes, his songs tell a compelling story. “Leaving the River City” has a pleasant, upbeat melody and music arrangement that contrasts sharply with the dark lyrics about a woman escaping an abusive relationship. In his mellifluous voice, Paulo sings: “Her dreams are faded as her jeans. Her nights are always filled with screams, and with his fury and his rage. She looks for courage to leave by any means, by mixing fire and gasoline or popping her twelve gauge / She’s leaving the River City. She’s leaving this time for good.

In “Rolling Back to Raleigh,” he wistfully sings of his mixed emotions while driving back home after dropping a child off for their first year of college. His love of being a musician on the road touring is expressed in “White Line Highway”:  “Some people, they can’t wait to get off the road. As for me, I can’t wait for my next show. White line highway, take me back.” And with a story reminiscent of the Marty Robbins classic El Paso, the song “Run Rene Run” tells the tale of an illegal, falsely accused of a crime and on the run.

The title track “The Last Card” is a standout, with a solid arrangement and some fine guitar riffs. Another great track is the bittersweet “One More Night,” a collaboration with Shane Cooley. The poignant lyrics describe a man with a drinking problem trying to reassure his woman that he’ll be OK. “One more night, and that’s enough. I could stop any day. Put it all away. Don’t you pour those bottles down the sink.” I also really like the country-rock “Too Far Gone,” which has an early Eagles vibe.

The three Spanish songs inject colorful energy into the album. The fiery opening track “Catrina Y Su Calavera” impels you to dance, as does the spicy “Llorando.” Paulo’s vocals are so authentically Spanish that it’s easy to forget you just heard him effortlessly and perfectly sing a country tune. “La Estrella del País” is a gorgeous homage to his parents’ home of Medellín, Colombia.

The Last Card is a first-rate album, and I highly recommend for lovers of Country music. To learn more about Paulo, check out his website. Support him by following on Twitter and  Facebook, and stream his music on Reverbnation and Spotify. His music may be purchased on iTunes or Amazon.

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