You probably don’t know Philly rocker/singer-songwriter John Francis. You should. He’s never been one of those blogrock bands of the moment. His web site ain’t really cool. He doesn’t look like an indie-rocker. In fact, he’s usually decked out in some fine cowboy boots, sharp jeans, one of those cool ornate Gram Parson shirts. He spends a lot of time in Nashville where he recorded his excellent new album, but was born in NYC, raised in rural Pennsylvania, went to college in Central Pennsylvania and settled in to Philly before he released his debut full-length album in 2005. It’s Philly mostly that has embraced him for the last five years; the station I work at has been a big supporter. As they say in radio lingo: “we played the shit out of his last record.”
One November 9th, John will release his new album on Dualtone Records called The Better Angels. It’s brings together his love of rock, country, folk and gospel and forms a unique, original whole. Don’t call it alt-country cause it’s not. Don’t call it rock cause it’s not. The gospel is in the conviction and spirituality of the lyrics, not the “Raise your hands to the sky” and “Praise The Lord” thing we think of as gospel. It’s all of the above, though. This is the album that John’s banking on for a while. You can hear it almost immediately that from the first note on the album’s opening rocker “The Way The Empire Fell.” You can just sense he’s poured every ounce of passion and massive talent in to this record. The album was produced by John Carter Cash (yeah, that guy’s son). It features a star studded cast of Nashville Cats including guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Ken Coomer and pedal steel guitarist Robby Turner. Francis scores extra points for having the lovely Rachael Yamagata (Philly!) help him out on the dark honky-tonk of the song “People On The Edge Of The World.”
Francis is an incredible lyricist who touches on a full range of emotion and worldly observation. He was honored by ASCAP as the recipient of the prestigious Sammy Cahn Lyricist of the Year Award for his song “Love Came To Me Dressed In Red.” Previous winners include John Mayer and Josh Ritter; not too shabby. John also recently won the Jay Gorney Award from ASCAP, for the song “Who?” which is also on his new album. These two songs tend towards the ballad-y side of Francis (a side of him as equally as good as his “rock-side.”) and it’s on these songs where Francis shines in a “Help Me Make It Through The Night” kind of way. Every once in a while he sounds a little like Jeff Buckley; another every once in a while he sounds like Chris Isaak. But Francis definitely has a voice of his own, sharpened by his pen and smart poetic observations. Francis’s songs are deeply real and touching and The Better Angels is a notable achievement that should be a game changer for him.
Download: Johnny Cash On The Radio – John Francis