Americana? Rock? Alt-Country? Sometimes all the labels get tiresome and you just want to hear some good songwriting. Simple, emotional, powerful. On Robert Francis’ third record, he’s simplified the production, cleaned it up perhaps to a fault. That said, the polish hasn’t dulled the power of Francis’ melodic vocals. His direct vocal delivery and youthful themes give this album a simple power. The songs seem to draw from the pure emotions of a first love.
“Eighteen” immediately draws on this theme. Francis and Juliette and Carla Commagere conjure an earnest and innocent emotional picture. The chorus “Will you remember eighteen / I left you in the night sky / You are my dream / Will you remember our love / The hardest part is growing up.” Francis is exploring youthful love and does it with an authenticity that hits the right notes.
Songs “Perfectly Yours,” “Alibi,” and “Star Crossed Memories” are equally catchy and lyrically unique. Francis knows how to turn a phrase and easily jumps in and out of a falsetto voice. It’s something that’s so effortless you may forget how rare it is. “Alibi” goes from Leonard Cohen-esque vocals to the Commagere’s harmonies. “I hate to say it but you were bad in every way / I guess I had it coming but I can feel it still today.” It’s a timeless feeling.
The real gem of the record is “Some Things Never Change.” It’s young love theme at its simplest and most effective. Francis draws his images in just a few words “You’re such a kid / You’ll always be. . . . . People like you / people like me / Some things never change.” He moves easily in and out of the falsetto.
Sure, this record is much cleaner around the edges. And, has it lost some of its pure twisted beauty (see “Mescaline” from “Before Nightfall)? Maybe. But I’ll take the twisted beauty right alongside the clean polish of the new record. The images are simpler and perhaps more plaintive.
About the author: Jeff is a teacher in the Boston area. When not buried correcting papers, Jeff can be found plucking various stringed instruments and listening to all types of americana music.