Francesca Beghe has tasted success. She’s seen her face and name flash across television screens and in magazines from Rolling Stone, People Magazine, and the New Yorker. She’s performed on some of entertainment’s biggest stages. Her new album Francesca Beghe Live features fourteen tracks culled from her three 2019/2020 shows, her first with a full-band backing in over two decades, and reveals her as an artist with nothing left to prove. At long last, it’s all about the music.
The roster of all-star guests she enlisted to pull off those performers attests to that. Marc Shulman, bassist Tony Garnier, and drummer Jerry Marotra, among others, are key to realizing the material’s potential, but it’s Beghe’s voice at the center of everything, restless, soulful, and always yearning. She covers Van Morrison’s “Enlightenment” for the album’s kick-off. Beghe doesn’t attempt to mimic Morrison’s impassioned bellow and, instead, opts for a bluesy yet effervescent vocal. The guitar work is especially potent.
She makes spectacular use of her upper register during the appropriately titled “Angel Choir”. A restrained chorus of supporting vocals back Beghe and the nuanced arrangement highlights her voice in a natural way. This song has an orchestrally minded arrangement; no one instrument leads the way but, instead, they play off one another and create a seamless listening experience. “LA Came to Meet Me” is a fantastic rendition of an older Beghe original. The music is warm and layered with sophisticated jazzy overtones and an effortless glide, but the lyrics and Beghe’s vocals stand out even more. The song pulls from her life without sounding too intimate or obscure.
“Send Down the Sunshine” is a vocal highlight. She continues following the basic musical template of a cumulative performance rather than one anchored around an omnipresent melody or riff, but her singing lifts this song to another level. The aforementioned quality of longing in her voice is greater than ever before and will move all but the hardest of hearts. Lead guitar, however, has a much greater prominence during “Dreamworld” and essentially provides Beghe with a duet partner. The melodic counterpoint it provides throughout the song is memorable and her vocal matches it without ever attempting to overshadow the music.
Her breathtaking version of Talking Heads’ “Listening Wind” raises the bar higher than ever before. Many listeners will be taken, perhaps without knowing it, by the humanizing quality, her voice gives this song compared to David Byrne’s original vocal. She transforms the song musically, as well, while remaining faithful to its original impulse. Beghe ends this triumphant release with her cover of Patti Smith’s anthemic “People Have the Power” and it rocks things up in a way none of its predecessors ever reach. She throws herself into Smith’s lyrics and delivers them with conviction and, more importantly, an audible sense of joy. The audience recognizes what’s happened here. They end Francesca Beghe’s live album cheering, and you likely will as well.