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Getting acquainted... Simply put, it was a matter of mental and emotional maintenance. Just back from a grueling tour with Nanci Griffith, singer/songwriter Denice Franke was more than just disillusioned with the music business; she was disillusioned with herself. And while she realizes it might sound ungracious (after all, many an artist would give his or her left pinkie to share the stage with a new-folk icon of Griffith's stature), she confesses the experience left her feeling empty and spent.

"It was a wonderful gig, but I wasn't ready for what the music business throws at you," admits Franke, who has also sung in some capacity with the likes of Hal Ketchum, John Gorka, Lyle Lovett and Eric Taylor. "Emotionally, I was not prepared for that kind of a fight."

And so, the Dallas-bred musician -- whose dreamy voice of such substance makes her the perfect harmonic complement to just about any vocalist -- packed up her life in the Hill Country and moved to the Montrose. Not only had she forsaken her high-profile post in a world-renowned music scene, she'd gone and reversed the standard Houston-to-Austin route so sacred in Texas singer/songwriter circles. But Franke craved the sort of place where she could get lost in the shuffle, and she celebrates that desire for anonymity on "Lowlands," one of the bouncier tracks from her new solo debut, You Don't Know Me.

"Take me back to Houston where the streets are so wide / I can stand on any corner and never be asked why," Franke sings, her delivery grounded and resonant. "No one here knows me, it's nice to be alone / Thinkin' 'bout what you're gonna do when you get home."

Produced with restraint and resourcefulness by longtime Franke supporter Eric Taylor, You Don't Know Me (released on Franke's own de nICE gIRL label) bristles with the unspent energy of an artist who's left her muse on the shelf far too long. Its sophisticated feel (Franke's nimble acoustic guitar picking, Eric Demmer's haunting saxophone and Mike Sumler's piano figure prominently in the airy, refined mix) may shock fans of her older, more tradition-minded work in the Beacon City Band or with Doug Hudson in the Hudson and Franke duo. Still, it's a necessary evolution, and one with which Franke is quite comfortable.

"Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't feel like this record is really a folk record," she says. "It's like a crossing over into other genres."

When she moved here nine years ago, after her stint with Griffith, Franke was struggling with a debilitating case of writer's block and seriously considering bailing on music altogether. "I went through this funk where I couldn't listen to music, I couldn't write music," she recalls. "Something went awry in me; I went through a real dead period."

She took a job as a bartender at a local Cafe Express to pay the bills, performing only when she felt so moved. Thankfully, Anderson Fair was always willing to accommodate her whims, and gradually, Franke eased back into her role as a serious artist. "They were safe gigs," she says. "I have a rapport there."

Today, the Cafe Express job now behind her and the creative fog lifted, the singer is set to celebrate the release of You Don't Know Me with an in-store appearance at Cactus Music Saturday afternoon and a show at Anderson Fair that night.

"I'm back," Franke says simply. "And I'm redefining myself."

Etc.... Singer/songwriter Laurie Foxx and her band, Inside Sharks, are jetting to Las Vegas Thursday to perform at the Emerging Artists & Talent in Music Conference and Festival (EAT'M for short). They're one of only three Texas groups (and the only Houston act) chosen from more than 800 entries. The three-day event -- which includes both signed and unsigned talent -- will feature Sir George Martin as its keynote speaker. Royalty, no less.

-- Hobart Rowland

Have a comment, tip, compliment or beef? E-mail Hobart Rowland at hobart_rowland@houstonpress.com.

 
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