On Back To Oklahoma, Austin’s Michael Fracasso introduces a tune titled “1950s” by saying he’s reluctant to explain his songwriting process since it’s “very personal.” He then begins quietly singing, almost as if to himself, slowly unwinding a flurry of vignettes that sound like they were transcribed from the pages of a family diary. The whole sweep of life is revealed in a single song, from the bloom of a new love, to the joy of birth, to the tragedy of death. Its simple melody dramatically builds with each verse, giving the lyrics a subtle urgency similar in tone to Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”. Rather than the hallucinogenic world-gone-wrong painted by Dylan, however, Fracasso details everyday tales of times past. The performance is so intimate that listening to it is like an invasion of privacy.
Back To Oklahoma captures Fracasso and current Dylan guitarist Charlie Sexton at a show last year in Oklahoma City. Fracasso supports his high, lonesome vocals with acoustic guitar and harmonica, while Sexton skillfully weaves a variety of acoustic and electric guitar textures throughout.
The set is a marvelous overview of Fracasso’s talents, consisting of songs from his three previous studio albums, plus a generous helping of new material. The title track’s haunted protagonist, the outlaw in the traditional-country-folk-styled “John Hardin”, and the vivid characters in the thirteen other selections may not be strictly autobiographical, but Fracasso inhabits these stories so completely that it’s easy to draw such a conclusion. With songs that feel this personal, Fracasso’s hesitation to reveal any more than necessary is understandable.