Summer Franklin’s performances and songwriting are surrounded with a fully invested approach that doesn’t just apply attention to the music alone but, instead, strives to create immersive musical experiences difficult to forget. She succeeds wildly. Franklin’s music is characterized by well written lyrics, melodic musical arrangements, and tasteful playing. Her influences are never readily apparent – instead, Franklin draws from whole genres for her sound and the colors of classic country, pop country, folk, and even a little blues bring her musical vision to vivid life. To be accomplishing such things at the tender age of sixteen makes it all the more eye-popping. Franklin shows a level of control in every area of her presentation that’s cool, confident, and deeply emotive while never succumbing to pretentiousness or hackneyed attempts to be something she’s not. There’s an extraordinarily reflective quality in her lyrics and singing that will draw in young and older fans alike.
One of the preeminent songs she’s written thus far is surely “The House that Built Me”. This song is cut in a very singer/songwriter mold with her voice and delicately wrought acoustic guitar coming together quite nicely. It’s rather astonishing to hear how deep her reflections run – this is a songwriter who, at a very early age, has emotional resonance reaching far beyond her relatively limited experiences. It all comes out quite honestly – there’s never a sense of someone reaching for false profundity. “Half Broke Horses” is another considerable highlight. Her writing talents come through strongly in this song. She has an eye for telling images and evocative phrases that, frankly, few modern songwriters in this area are capable of provoking. The image of half tamed horses and all its possible implications gives her a great springboard and the musical arrangement has a dream-like ambiance deliciously at odds with its title. Franklin’s country influences emerge much more clearly from a track like this and she ably handles the style’s demands while never succumbing to its tropes.
Songs like “Fence Post” and “It’s Gotta Be Love” show how adeptly she can move in the context of modern country music while never surrendering a shred of her artistic credibility. The former track has a more low key thrust, but it mounts from a relatively sedate opening into some nice, consistent peaks during the chorus. “It’s Gotta Be Love” has a comparatively up front sound without ever being too obvious and the track’s entertainment factor gets a considerable boost from Franklin’s powerful singing. “Firefly” is another great moment. There’s gentleness in this song reminiscent of the first song mentioned in this review, but it’s more artfully presented and there isn’t so much focus placed on following a bare bones arrangement. As sensitively delivered as this song is, however, nothing quite matches the stark beauty of “The Climb”. The theme is a familiar one, but Summer Franklin belts it out with all of the passion we have come to expect from her after what’s come before. She doesn’t sound at all out of place sharing these life lessons with her audience. This is an impressive artist – in every sense of the word – and her path from her continues upward.