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Love Supreme

Husband-and-wife R&B team are back in H-town

That flair for the dramatic, as well as the comedic, serves Fran well, particularly as the vocal center of attention of this festival-hopping team. In recent years the always-dapper duo have played high-profile gigs, including the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. They've also performed for a presidential inauguration party in Washington, D.C., as well as at countless festivals, from Long Beach to the Poconos, from New York's Central Park to Monterey.

But since their renaissance as full-time performers, Fran and Hollimon have made steady overseas touring their primary source of work, often playing Germany (where they've recorded a live CD unavailable in the United States), France, Belgium and Switzerland, as well as such places as Turkey and Brazil.

"We go to Europe a lot, and we work hard," says Fran. "People think it's a holiday when you're doing Europe, but it ain't." Given their penchant to economize, including often cooking their own meals over a hot plate while traveling (they're both fine cooks), the couple have been able to make a decent living by touring a few months of the year and mainly cocooning back home.

With 97 years of professional music experience between them, Carol Fran and Clarence Hollimon know how to engage an audience.
C. R. Setzekorn
With 97 years of professional music experience between them, Carol Fran and Clarence Hollimon know how to engage an audience.

"We're just doing the occasional private party thing in Houston these days," Fran says. "I don't care to make people dance no more and compete with all the racket out in the clubs. So we really don't do that scene much. You know, once in a while we might open for someone special, but other than that, uh-uh."

It's no wonder that performing in fine European theaters before knowledgeable, rapt audiences appeals to her. The money, like the number of annual workdays required to make ends meet, is also a whole lot better on the international plan.

However, Fran and Hollimon also grace stages elsewhere around the Lone Star State far more often than they do in Texas's largest city. For most of the past decade they have worked regularly with the Austin-based organization Texas Folklife Resources, performing at special concerts statewide and serving as artists-in-residence in weeklong programs in various small communities. TFR Director Pat Jasper says, "They're the best: classy and down-to-earth at the same time, a real Texas treasure."

So it's doubly ironic that the coolest blues duo in Houston seldom play on the home turf. That being the case, local fans hear their music mainly via a series of CDs on the Black Top label. Their affiliation with the New Orleans-based record company resulted from a recommendation by lifelong friend Gaines. "Clarence and Carol was with us on Full Gain (1988)," the saxophone-playing bandleader says. "They're husband and wife, but they're just like a blood sister and brother to me. They are great people."

After returning to the studio for that first Gaines CD, Fran and Hollimon were featured artists on the 1990 compilation Gulf Coast Blues, Volume One. They appeared again on Gaines's Horn of Plenty in 1992. That same year they released their first complete album as a duo, Soul Sensation, followed in 1994 by See There!

These last two discs showcase the full stylistic range of Fran and Hollimon, incorporating diverse elements into a dominant sound best described as timeless R&B, with heavy emphasis on the B. From achingly beautiful instrumentals such as "Blues for Carol" (which also made the soundtrack for the 1993 film The Pelican Brief) to such gritty ditties as "I Needs to Be Be'd With" or upbeat funk like "Door Poppin'," their first-rate original material makes them perhaps the finest husband-and-wife songwriting team in contemporary blues.

They may also be Houston's best-kept-from-itself cultural secret.

Fran and Hollimon perform Saturday, October 23, at the Beer Garden Stage (downtown, corner of McKinney and Smith) at Power of Houston '99. Showtime is 4:30 p.m. $5 for adults; $2 for kids age four to ten; free for kids three and under. Call (713)220-2000, extension 7697.

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