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Album Review: Donavon Frankenreiter – The Heart

3 min read

Under the right conditions, surfing and music can make the perfect couple. Jack Johnson, Tom Curren and Donavon Frankenreiter are among a long list of multitalented individuals that have forged stellar careers in both fields, handling themselves on the stage as seemingly effortlessly as they do on the waves. This cross-pollination has produced a carefree breeziness, characteristic of coastal lifestyles, which more often than not permeates the music surfers create. But no one has quite navigated this double-career as seamlessly and synchronously as Frankenreiter, whose 20-year career as a professional freesurfer has been mirrored by a 2-decade long run as a professional musician. His latest album The Heart marks his second decade as a solo artist, having initially embarked on his serious musical journey as guitarist for the 70s rock-inspired band Sunchild. The Heart not only reflects the growth of his two creative careers, but is emblematic of his personal growth and maturity in the years since his self-titled solo debut.

Donavon Frankenreiter The-HeartThe album opens with an immediate sense of ease and comfort associated with practice and experience. Co-written with fellow singer-songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips, When The River Bend’s lovely, rollicking simplicity highlights its relaxed but meaningful pearls of wisdom. On Woman the honeyed cries of long-time collaborator Matt Grundy’s electric guitar echo with stunning expression, before Big Wave marries Frankenreiter’s three great loves under one roof. His handsome, gravel-worn voice betrays a veiled, warm grin as he utters coastal-themed metaphors about the love he shares with his wife. Down offers a rare moment of upbeat exuberance, with forward-driving guitar that is grounded by Frankenreiter’s distinct languid, alluring voice. The delightful love song Little Shack was written with Frankenreiter’s 12-year-old son; a perfectly fitting collaboration as the track details that feeling of complete contentment and fulfilment with the people standing in front of you, without the need for anything else on the planet.

As well as breezy contemplation of love and life, The Heart offers moments of real heaviness, as with age also comes the ability to venture into emotional pits and profundities without the overwhelming angst of youthful inexperience. On Losing Streak subtle vocal harmonies compliment the track’s sophisticated melancholy, while the album’s final track, California Lights, is its most affecting. Written about Frankenreiter’s father’s battle with Leukemia, who passed away two weeks after the record was completed, the artist could only make it through the emotional track three times during the recording process. A live take of just him and his guitar was chosen for the record, and showcases the vulnerability and contemplation that is deafening in times of unfathomable sadness and uncertainty. Frankenreiter’s cracking voice betrays his real grief amongst utterances of persistent optimisim: “I know that you’re gonna be just fine”.

While it is in no way excitingly innovative or boundary pushing, The Heart is a deeply personal, sentimental and intimate album that shines through its musical simplicity and emotional perceptiveness. It can perhaps best be summed up by the chorus of one of its songs You And Me: “it’s gotta be from the heart / for it to start”, which reveals Frankenreiter’s genuine sentimentality and emotional sensitivity that ensures each track in this lovely collection shares a powerful bond to his own heart.