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Franklin Bruno

For over ten years, Franklin Bruno has fronted the indie pop group Nothing Painted Blue spinning smart, sharp, charming yarns that are catchier than Tulip Mania. On Kiss Without Makeup, his second solo full-length CD (he also has numerous releases on Franklin Bruno and Simple Machines), Bruno sings about loneliness, addiction, and false happiness with a wry sense of humor. Unlike the carefree bounce inherent in Nothing Painted Blue's songs, however, the songs on this record are shaded with melancholy. The stripped-down arrangements are punctuated by warm touches of upright bass and gentle drums, leaving the focus on Bruno's voice and the stories he has to tell.

While the instrumentation gives the songs a grown-up, jazzy feel, they retain the hallmarks of Bruno songwriting: clever wordplay, witty observation, and intelligent humor. On the bittersweet "Just Because It's Dying," he sings, "Some people lead a crippled dream out back to shoot it/At the very first suspicion that it's lame/Others let theirs limp along/Although their legs aren't very strong/While there's a single shaky step left in their frame." On the featured track, "Clean Needle," (a version of which originally appeared on Shrimper's Abridged Pervision compilation) he croons, "All I wanna be/Is your clean needle/Wash me off before you tie," over a jazz trio background that would be suitable for any lounge singer. While the imagery may be unorthodox, the sentiment is familiar: it's a love song, baby. It may be tweaked and twisted, but the feelings are all there.

On "Thin Weak Smile" (also from Kiss Without Makeup), almost-cheery country-tinged music offsets Bruno's biting lyrics about a fraudulent friend. Whether he's being sweet or sinister, Bruno knows the value of a clever phrase and some simple instrumentation.