Francis in Paradise, Anarchy in the Church

by Beacon Staff • March 5, 2008

At eight years old, Robert Francis was invited up on the stage at The Mint Club in L.A. to perform with actor Harry Dean Stanton and singer Chaka Kahn. Ry Cooder, number eight on Rolling Stone's "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time," gave Francis a vintage National guitar at age nine. When Francis was 16, John Frusciante, best known as the guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, took him on as his only student. The youngest in a family of musicians that includes his sister Juliette, who is currently on tour with the Foo Fighters, Francis was destined to storm the music scene sooner or later.

That time is now. Last year Robert Francis was nominated for The Shortlist Music Prize in 2007 for his debut album, One by One.

"The Shortlist Music Prize is a music award given annually to an album released in the United States within the last year, as chosen by a panel of musicians, producers and journalists, known as the 'Listmakers,'" according to the press release.

The 20-year old has just embarked on a U.S. tour with Australian singer/songwriter Missy Higgins and will be making a stop in Boston at The Paradise on March 14.

With a voice reminiscent of Damien Rice and a mix of acoustic sounds and echoing twangs, this indie-pop musician's work has the making of a star on the rise.

By painting pictures of America's heartland with lush, poetic lyrics and mimicking the cover of Dylan's The Times They Are a-Changin' right down to the typeface style, it is clear the image Francis wants to project.

"If I could model my life after 'Sign on the Window' by Bob Dylan, I'd be very happy," said Francis in an e-mail interview with The Beacon.

However, if he wants to be the next Dylan, he has quite a way to go-but One by One is a step in the right direction.

Categorizing his own music as "a small monsoon of emotion," the Brentwood, Calif. native who, as a young boy, would sneak into clubs to watch his sisters perform, recorded One by One in a friend's living room and on the second floor of his parents' house. He says that when it comes to recording, he has no specific procedure, but, "I've always wanted to have rituals."

In fact, unlike other musicians, he doesn't seem to have a procedure for anything, including his creative method. "I don't have a process," he said. "Every song comes about in its own special way."

On One by One, Francis contributed drums, vocals, banjo, bass, the piano that twinkles on one of the tracks, "Mama Don't Come," the mandolin and of course, guitar.

"I've worked hard to learn to play everything, but sadly, the one thing I can't play is the saxophone," he said.

On tour, Francis's band takes care of most of these instrumentals. His shows also include frequent guest appearances by Ry Cooder and Mike Bolger, who has played with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jewel.

Projected to be the next Townes Van Zandt by Performing Songwriter, Francis' music sounds like it's been written by someone twice his age with its simple yet comforting guitar progressions and lazy, bluesy vibes. Francis' influences include Fleetwood Mac and John Hiatt, according to his MySpace page.

From the four tracks available to listen to on his MySpace page, Francis is certainly out to make a name for himself amongst the few poets in the music industry. His precocious lyrics such as "You were just too young and you were just too smart/probably the best candidate for a broken heart," augment his shrewdly clever and complex melodies.

But other than attempting to emulate Dylan's "Sign on the Window," Francis' other goals are just like any other man in his early twenties. "I want to have a family, my license back [and] my Chevelle in working order again."

He's a little bit Dylan, a little bit Townes and a little bit of Kerouac, giving off a "beatnik vibe" with his casual attitude and heavy, wise-beyond-his-years lyrics. On one of his best tracks, "Alice," Francis laments, "I was destined for greatness/that's what my Mama once told me/but now that I'm older, the future don't see the way she sees." But so far, the future definitely sees the way his Mama sees, and it sees that this is only the beginning of great things to come from Robert Francis.

Robert Francis' show starts at 8 p.m. on March 14 at The Paradise.