Frances England’s music has gone through a growth spurt. Though England has released four children’s albums, the newly released Paths We Have Worn is her first album for adults. So how did England change her sound? Well, she didn’t really. While this sounds horrifying to anyone who’s had to listen to a children’s album, you have to note that England’s children’s music is in a folksy league of it’s own. It’s not quite what you’d expect from children’s music at all, it could easily appeal to parents too. That’s why the transition to adult music is pretty seamless. All England had to do was change the subject matter and the person she’s singing to for the sound to translate well into adult indie folk. To be honest, I didn’t guess that this had come from a children’s artist until I read England’s bio. Once I was aware, I noted some tell-tale signs of kid-friendly songwriting: lots of lyric repetition, lots of filler words like “ba-da-ba” and such, and animated vocals. However, these elements work in a sweet, simple folk song.
Where the difference between England’s children’s and adult music lies is in the subject. It mainly deals with relationships, whether it’s a dependable friendship (“On Our Way”) or a love that has faded with time and neglect (“Since It’s Been You And Me.”) There’s also a sweet love song with “Paths We Have Worn” and a song about wanting to be with someone even at their low points in “One You Wanna Know.” She doesn’t get too far from the family dynamic she captures in her kids’ music: “Good Friends” is about the birth of a child. “Fall Out of the Sky” has a positive message about how anyone, even the most perfect, can fall. She adds that tender arms will be there to catch the fallen. While it can seem like a reassuring message for children navigating school, it’s written in a way that makes it perfect for adults. As the opening track, “Fall” sets a high bar for the rest of the album. Unfortunately, the remaining songs don’t capture the simplicity and catchiness that make “Fall” so great.
Each of these songs would work perfectly performed acoustically, pared down to just vocals, an acoustic guitar, and minimal percussion. However, each track has a lot going on in the background. Some of it works; “Fall Out of the Sky” keeps it simple with just some low, melancholy strings accompanying the guitar and vocals. Where the production doesn’t quite work is on tracks like “Come Back to Me.” It’s almost there, but the distorted, far-away vocals on one verse remind me of a strange rap break. The song doesn’t need it. “Light Brings Color” stands out for the wrong reasons, it seems like it’s trying to be an ambient track that just happens to have oft-repeated lines about good feelings over it. England has a soft, beautiful voice; it moves effortlessly between clear and a raspy whisper. It’s sweet enough as is, it doesn’t need the extra effects added to many of the songs.
Frances England makes music that can appeal to all ages. Her soft voice is soothing and the repetitive lyrics allow you to sing along soon after hearing a song for the first time. I’d love to hear an acoustic or just a simplified version of this album without some of the inorganic effects; these songs have such charm from their simple, sweet lyrics and vocals and there is no need to distract from it.