This weekend is a sort of homecoming for songwriter Betsy Franck. The Athens, Ga.-based musician spent her early singing career here in Charleston after graduating from Converse College in Spartanburg. A young 20-something with a powerful voice she'd honed since youth, Franck played nearly every night of the week in cover bands, never making less than $250. But she felt trapped in that high-floor/low-ceiling life and sought something more creatively fulfilling, eventually leaving the Holy City for Asheville, N.C., and then the Athens.
"It's cool to look at Charleston and hear so many original acts coming out of there," Franck says from her Athens home. "When I was there, that didn't seem to be the case. I wanted to take a break from the craziness of playing seven nights a week. I felt my life was on Market Street. I decided the mountains were a good place to figure out what my voice was going to be."
Franck's Charleston return also marks an adjustment in style. A lifelong music lover with eclectic tastes, she has indulged in everything from jam bands to traditional bluegrass while in Asheville. Then she went a little alt-country after moving to Georgia. After that, hints of vintage soul, R&B, and funk made their way into her music.
Franck cut her official debut, Held Up By Progress, with engineer/producer Chris Bishop (Black Lips, Deerhunter) in 2003. That was Franck's last release for the next seven years as she once again she pulled back for exploration and growth. She moved to Athens and started using her voice in new ways, particularly within blues and soul styles.
"In Athens, like most place in the world, they really try to push you into a niche," Franck explains. "I don't have any problem being a folkie songwriter, but I really felt since I have a soulful voice to offer — and that Athens hadn't really given me a chance to prove — that I should really work on showing the different sides of me."
After nearly six years of growing together and playing her songs, Franck and a new Bareknuckle Band released Still Waiting in 2010. It's a fine example of her musical versatility, with elements of Western boogie, slow-burn organ-driven blues, and Crazy Horse-esque country-rock. There's even a straight-up funk tune, "Too Much Trouble," showcasing the Dap-King in Franck's soul. It's an extraordinarily broad release. Her industry friends warned her of this, but Franck marches to different beat nearly every time. She's swerved yet again with her new string band-style solo album, This Far, which she once described as "teary-eyed mountain music."
"The band had a lot of a momentum and we were really feeling that groove we were doing, but then my life kind of changed, and I went through a huge breakup from a 10-year relationship," she says. "I decided it was time to do an album with just me and hired hands and do a really intimate, 'this is what I've been through' cathartic experience album. It's a roller-coaster type of album with a lot of emotion."
It took two years for Franck to finally pull This Far all together. She wrote and recorded most of it fairly quickly, but then couldn't let go. She kept hearing new instruments, and maybe just needed a moment, like those who hold their divorce papers for months before signing them. Since then, her band's gone on to other things — kids and jobs — again throwing Franck's musical life into turmoil. But she's used to change by now. "I'm working on another band that is going to mix the sound of that solo album and that funk sound to bring it together a little bit," Franck says.
For this show, she has a full band and a guest fiddler ready mix it up on stage. "I've added some of the [solo album] songs that are kind of low-key to the set list for the Bareknuckle Band, and they're just a lot bigger and electrified," she says. "My fiddle player, bass player, and I will probably do a lighter sound in the middle or beginning to show all of it off and then do the big band stuff as well because I know that crowd really likes the big funky stuff."