Donavon Frankenreiter's new album, "The Heart," officially marks the start of the singer-songwriter's second decade as a solo recording artist. It's been over ten years since the release of his self-titled debut, and in that time he has grown, not only as a musician, but also as a man. He's raising a family and nurturing two creative careers-one onstage, one in the waves-but on top of all that, he's still learning what makes him tick. And so, naturally, he named his album after his ticker.
The songs here are seriously sentimental, without question the heaviest material he has released to date. Part of that inspiration came from his co-writer, the prolific songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips, with whom Frankenreiter had collaborated in the past on his album "Pass It Around." He recognized the ease with which the two worked together and sent Phillips a handful of new tunes and ideas. He was astonished at the brilliance of the songs that came back, and so quickly, but also by one of Phillips' suggestions in particular.
To record them, Frankenreiter booked two weeks of studio time in May of 2015 at Blue Rock Studios in Wimberley, Texas. But unlike the privacy afforded by most studios, these sessions were to be live-streamed on the Internet in a soul-baring exhibition for his fans-talk about intimate and honest. With just two bandmates and a studio engineer, Frankenreiter knocked out a song each day and recorded the entire album in full view of a watching public. He had never been so inspired, and embraced every aspect of the situation: the landscape, the lodging, the isolation, the overall challenge.
And, for now, Frankenreiter's "thing" may be compassion. Perhaps most heavy on "The Heart" is its final song, "California Lights," a tune written about Frankenreiter's father's battle with Leukemia. "It was written about my dad, who was dying during the making of this record. He died about two weeks after we finished it. It was pretty intense, a heavy song to record. I did that song in its completion three times, that's all I could only make it through. The live take of me playing the guitar and singing was the only way I could do it. I was seeing the heart everywhere."
In those moments of emotional heaviness, Frankenreiter reaches for his guitar to guide him, for an escape. "I felt like I was completely in a bubble the whole time I recorded, I was so inside the music. I cried when I left the studio, and the guys in the band did, too; it was radical. It was like going back to reality. That's what music does, you can definitely escape."
A decade into his career, Donavon Frankenreiter has learned to listen to his ticker above all else. Doing so has allowed the light to come in from all the corners of his world, even those where there is darkness. Sharing the load with those he trusts, and especially with those he loves, he has seized the opportunity to take control of his craft, on his own terms, and to follow his own beat.