Photo by Jesse Lundy
Philadelphia’s prodigal son John Francis moved to Nashville to make a record, but it sounds like he took the roundabout way, circling the country and absorbing sounds. When Francis and his band, hot off a sold-out record release at the Tin Angel, rolled into The Key Studio Sessions last weekend to play an assortment of new songs, his live audience was treated to a musical map. We heard the lap steel of long, dusty midwestern roads and the gospel vocal cries of the south. Stax-style organ, swinging bass, bouncy juke-joint rhythm guitar and my favorite bit: drummer Chris Giraldi’s chain-gang beat on “People On The Edge of the World.” I had to peek through the control-room glass to see how this was achieved. (Near as I can figure, it was a tambourine and shakers, resting against the snare drum, combined with a lot of fortuitous happenstance; whatever the case, it sounds huge.)
Despite returning home with a collection of distinctly American music (his new Better Angels reportedly hit #40 on the Americana Music Association charts last week), Francis’ songs criticize as much as they celebrate. The crowd pondered lyrics about corporate greed, class stratification, Native-American disenfranchisement, and a country that, through Francis’ lens, struggles when it comes to compassion. “America, I love you,” he sings. “But you’re breaking my heart.” Help yourself to the live set below, and stay tuned—these songs and his interview with Helen Leicht will air on a Philly Local hour coming soon.