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Listen to John Francis’ Veteran’s Day cover of “Born in the U.S.A.”

Photo by Alan Messer
Francis recording his cover of “Born in the U.S.A.” | Photo by Alan Messer

Philadelphia-bred singer-songwriter John Francis has long been an advocate for social justice. Themes of disenfranchisement cropped up across his 2010 album Better Angels, from racial segregation to class stratification (get a refresher course in his Key Studio Session here). More recently, he threw the City of Love Festival to support local hunger charities and launched a PledgeMusic campaign, which seeks to both fund his next album and support the international poverty organization One. So when Francis chooses to cover a Bruce Springsteen song for Veteran’s Day, you know there’s more to it than just playing an iconic song by an iconic artist.

“Born in the U.S.A.” is one of the most misinterpreted songs in rock history; lyrically, the song tells a harrowing tale of the troubles faced by a Vietnam vet upon returning home, but it’s commonly used as a yay-America anthem at sporting events, 4th of July celebrations and even political campaigns. Which completely misses the point, and Springsteen’s original demo (recorded in the style of Nebraska and available on the Tracks box set) makes it much more evident. Francis’ own version takes a similar approach with strings and light acoustic instrumentation.

“I’m releasing the song today, Veteran’s Day, and working with veteran’s agencies locally and nationally to get the song out there,” Francis said via email. “It’s an attempt to bring exposure and shed light on the dire plight of many of our returning veteran’s, and our society’s pervasive blindness toward the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals.”

The songs was recorded in Creative Workshop Studio in Nashville and produced by Ken Coomer (original Wilco drummer, Uncle Tupelo), with Kenny Vaughan on guitar (Lucinda Williams, Ray Lamontagne) and Dave Roe on bass (Johnny Cash, John Mellencamp). Listen to the track below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Divers at Kung Fu Necktie, Chipocrite at PhilaMOCA for Tuesday Tune-Out, XPN Welcomes Northern Liberties Music Fest’s Van Morrison Tribute Night at The Fire

Divers open for Auctioneer at Kung Fu Necktie tonight.  The brainchild of local musicians Emily Ann Zeitlyn and Ross Bellenoit, Divers are a new quartet filled out by Tom Bendel (Buried Beds) and Todd Erk (The Weeds).  Alternating between wailing, dynamic flourishes and upbeat rock-outs, the Philly band’s still-growing discography of three tracks is an enticing preview of what’s to come.  Tickets and information for tonight’s 21+ show with Auctioneer and Anna Vogelzang can be found at the WXPN Concert Calendar.  Stream “Wild Things” below and right-click here to download it for free.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Up Up Down Down with Hop Along at Union Transfer, XPN Welcomes The City of Love Festival to Underground Arts, River City Extension at Fed Live, XPN Welcomes Bruce Hornsby to the Scottish Rite Auditorium, XPN Welcomes Morrissey to the House of Blues Atlantic City

South Jersey’s Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start reunite for a show at Union Transfer tonight.  Ten years ago the math rock / shoegazing-punk outfit released And Nothing is #1 – tonight, they will be playing the record from start to finish, appeasing fans who have patiently waited for the band to resurface after 2007′s Worst Band Name Ever.  Tickets and information for the all-ages show with A Great Big Pile of Leaves and Hop Along can be found here. Read yesterday’s interview with Steve Poponi of Up Up Down Down here.  Below, stream “By Surprise” from And Nothing is #1.

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Listen to John Francis’ appearance on the Leicht Lunch (playing the City of Love festival on 1/12)

Philly singer-songwriter John Francis appeared on The Leicht Lunch on WXPN last week to play some music and chat with host Helen Leicht about The City Of Love Festival, the benefit concert he’s staging at Underground Arts this weekend. With a massive 13-band bill ranging from rapper Kuf Knotz to singer-songwriter Kwesi Kankam and rock foursome The Districts, the show will raise money for Broad Street Ministry and its hospitality initiative to help Philadelphia’s homeless. Below, download Francis’ on-air performance of his song “Just a Moment Ago,” and hear his entire interview with Helen Leicht. For more invormation about the festival, visit WXPN’s concert calendar.

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John Francis’ City of Love Festival to benefit local church’s hospitality effort

The Broad Street Ministry

One of the many wonderful things about the Philadelphia music community is its desire to rally around causes and make a difference in the city.  As cliched as that sounds, its true – the latest example being hometown musician John Francis‘ new City of Love Festival, benefiting Broad Street Ministry and their “Breaking Bread” hospitality initiative.  Amidst debate over whether or not outdoor meal services for the homeless should be allowed in Philadelphia, the Broad Street Ministry has created its own safe haven for the city’s homeless men and women where they can receive a hot meal and a variety of services (including medical attention, art therapy and assistance for veterans) every Thursday afternoon. Continue reading →

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The 12 Days of Local Christmas: Download “Don’t Tell Me It’s Christmas” by John Francis

WXPN’s Twelve Days of Local Christmas continues today with the song “Don’t Tell Me It’s Christmas” by singer-songwriter John Francis. John has a show with Ben Arnold on New Year’s Eve at Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville. Francis has also organized the City Of Love Fest on January 12th at Underground Arts to raise funds for the Broad Street Ministry’s hospitality initiative and he hosts the “Magic Hour” singer-songwriter night at Fergie’s Pub every Tuesday evening. The 12 Days of Local Christmas compilation is curated by XPN mid-day host Helen Leicht and the songs will be played daily during My Morning Download on the Morning Show with Michaela Majoun and on Helen’s local pick of the day. You can download the entire Twelve Days of Local Christmas compilation here.

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John Francis to open for Loretta Lynn at The Keswick Theater on 11/30

Though he migrated to Nashville to record some records, John Francis got his start in the musical halls of Harrisburg and Philadelphia.  The rootsy singer-songwriter released the critically acclaimed The Better Angels in 2010, which he recorded in Johnny Cash’s Nashville studio, and lately he’s been working on a follow-up with a band comprised of musicians who played with James Taylor, Lucinda Williams, JJ Cale, to name a few.  When he stopped by for a Key Studio Session in 2010, Francis shared his often critical but always eloquent view on struggle in America; listen to “People on the Edge of the World” below.  He brings his heartfelt country-twang to The Keswick Theater when he opens for Loretta Lynn on November 30th.  Tickets and information are available here.