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"Before Nightfall"

Robert Francis – Before Nightfall
08 December 2010, 09:00 Written by Matt Conner

There’s a weathered spirit at work haunting the hallways of Robert Francis’ music. At times, the L.A. native gives way to the muse and he strikes songwriter gold. Other moments, Francis gets in the way and, in the process, pushes back the necessary ghosts circling the studio.

Perhaps some clarification is needed. Consider the glut of male singer/songwriters in the digital music ear. Some become the latest sugary lollipop for chicks to fawn over. Most are lost amid the sheer numbers at work. But every now and then, a handful create something transcendent, something that arrests the senses even though the ingredients involved are the same as everyone else.

Whether you call it a musical muse or an intrinsic ability, either way you either have it or you don’t. You find it in everything Bruce Springsteen’s ever touched. The first tunes of Pete Yorn’s musicforthemorningafter revealed the same echoes. Ed Harcourt has hit the same note, as has Ron Sexsmith, Matthew Ryan and Joseph Arthur.

Robert Francis can become one of those influences as well, provided he stays the course and follows the muse that he’s found so far. Enough evidence is found on tracks like ‘Junebug’ and ‘Keep on Runnin’’ to tell that much. The former is a jangling rock tune that settles deeply into the subconscious once Francis’ sweet refrain of “ooh’s” and guitar tones works its magic. The latter is a stunning, stated tune that’s easily Francis’ best work to date.

Unfortunately, not every song is as interesting. ‘Where You Came From’ is just as forgettable as ‘Keep on Runnin’’ is memorable. ‘Hallways’ tries to pass as some ‘70s pop homage, but becomes incredibly boring in the process. But Francis saves the album from meandering too much with a sweet slide on ‘Playground’ and sweet guitar work on ‘I Like The Air.’

Francis is only 23 at this point, so rock and roll is probably a path to more than just artistic greatness at this point. After all, a young artist is bound to enjoy the party that comes after the show just as much as the show itself. But here’s hoping the muse leads Francis to mine for the deepest material over time and develop the career he’s been invited into.

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