I totally wanted to really like Robert Francis, because I had read parts of the bio posted on his website and it started like this:
‘I know that for some musicians, writing songs is like therapy and the way they get their emotions out, but for me it's more than an outlet — it's a way to keep me from completely losing my mind.’
Man, it sounded intense and everything, and may be I was expecting too much after such a declaration. But it is not that his music is bad, there actually was all the ingredients to make an excellent recipe, a great voice, with a large range and powerful enough to sustain these shouted choruses and to bring plenty of harmonies, some talented musicians around him on keyboard, guitar, bass and drums, and a confidence on stage while performing well-crafted tunes, but when I got to see him at the Bootleg theater on Monday night, his songs simply sounded like many soft-rock numbers I had already heard.
And if I continue for a minute with his resume, he got very successful in Europe where he toured a lot after the release of his 2009 album ‘Before Nightfall’, and his hit single ‘Junebug’ even went number 1 in France, number 2 in Switzerland, and number 17 in Germany! On Monday night, he even said he was coming back from the Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp’s FarmAid, another big reconnaissance for a young songwriter.
The set that he and his band delivered was a somewhat pleasant succession of songs with a combination of keyboard, guitars and drums, with some countrish accents, some explosive parts and a few guitar solos, many with an ascending tendency, and ending with shouted vocals.
Beside playing new songs from his upcoming ‘Strangers In The First Place’ which will be out at the beginning of next year, he mostly played some from his second record ‘Before Nightfall’, like ‘Nightfall’, ‘Climb a Mountain’, ‘Mescaline’ and ‘Playground’, whose chorus shared a striking resemblance with Jackson Browne’s ‘These days’. He also played ‘Junebug’ of course, and it was actually one of the songs I enjoyed the most, the kind of agreeable tune you could listen to with your car window down, while driving through the plains of the Midwest, but may be I was waiting for something more surprising with a je-ne-sais-quoi that was not really present. Or may be I was in a bad day, not receptive enough, tired, I don’t know, but I was feeling like an outsider as all these women around me were lip-synching all his lyrics, cheering between songs, and making these aaaahhhhhs when he was announcing another one.
Now I got it, there was a certain Jeff-Buckley-style in the way his songs were built, in the way his vocals were going sometimes, it was a more muscular Buckley, but may be that was where the attraction was coming from.
His sister Juliette Commagere came on stage to help on the vocal harmonies for some songs, she is herself a musician and the wife of Joachim Cooder, Ry’s son, who actually gave Robert Francis his first guitar when he was 9. So may be we can expect a little more in the future from such music royalty.
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