Category: Southern rock

New Audio: Acclaimed Chicago-based Singer/Songwriter Neal Francis’ Souful and Uplifting “Can’t Stop the Rain”

Born Neal Francis O’Hara, the Livingston, NJ-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist known as Neal Francis can trace the origins of his sound and approach to his childhood: he was obsessed with boogie woogie piano and his father gifted him a dusty Dr. John album. O’Hara quickly became a piano prodigy, touring Europe with Muddy Waters’ son and with other prominent bluesmen across the States when he was just 18.

In 2012, Neal Francis joined the popular instrumental funk band The Heard. With the Livingston-born, Chicago-based singer/songwriter and pianist at the creative helm, The Heard quickly became a national touring act, making stops at New Orleans Jazz Fest and Bear Creek, and touring with The New Mastersounds and The Revivalists. As The Heard’s profile rose, Francis sunk deeply into addiction. By 2015, he had been fired from his band, evicted from his apartment and was inching perilously close to his own destruction. “When you get close to death like that you can feel it,” Francis recalls. An alcohol-induced seizure that year led to a broken femur, dislocated arm, and, finally, the realization that he needed to get clean. Although he identifies as not being religious, Francis took a music-ministry job at St. Peter’s UCC in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend.

Francis’ solo debut, 2019’s Changes was released to critical acclaim with the album landing on Best-of-the-Year lists of KCRW, KEXP and The Current while BBC Radio 6 hailed him as “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint.” Adding to a breakthrough year, Francis toured with Lee Fields and The Expressions and JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas. He shared a stage with members of the legendary The Meters at New Orleans Jazz Fest. And he did a live session on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Despite having breakthrough success with his career, Francis broke up with his longtime girlfriend while on tour to support Changes. When the tour ended, he trend to Chicago and found himself with no place to stay. So, he ended to St. Peter’s and asked if he could move into the parsonage. “I thought I’d only stay a few months but it turned into over a year, and I knew I had to do something to take advantage of this miraculous gift of a situation,” he says.

Francis began writing new material, a series of songs that’s both strangely enchanted and painfully self-aware, inspired by Greek myths, frenzied dreams and late night drives and a possibly haunted church. (More on that in a bit.) The end result is the Chicago-based artist’s highly-anticipated sophomore album In Plain Sight, an album that derives its title from the title of a song that wound up getting cut from the album. “It’s a song about my breakup and the circumstances that led to me living in the church, where I’m owning up to all my problems within my relationships and my sobriety,” says Francis, whose first full-length chronicles his struggles with addiction. “It felt like the right title for this record, since so much of it is about coming to the understanding that I continue to suffer because of those problems. It’s about acknowledging that and putting it out in the open in order to mitigate the suffering and try to work on it, instead of trying to hide everything.”

Continuing his ongoing collaboration with Changes producer Sergio Rios, a guitarist and engineer, who has worked with CeeLo Green and Alicia Keys, the album spotlights Francis’ reminded yet free-spirited piano playing. “From a very early age, I was playing late into the night in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way,” he says, naming everything from ragtime to gospel soul to The Who among his formative influences.

Recorded entirely on tape with his backing band, Kellen Boersma (guitar), Mike Starr (bass) and Collin O’Brien (drums), In Plain Sight is also fueled by Francis’ restless experimentation with a stash of analog synths lent by his friends during his early days living at the church “My sleep schedule flipped and I’d stay up all night working on songs in this very feverish way,” he says. “I just needed so badly to get completely lost in something.”

By the end of his surreal and sometimes eerie experience of living at the church—“I’m convinced that the stairway leading to the choir loft where I used to practice is haunted,” he says—Francis had found his musicality undeniably elevated. “Because I was forced into this almost monastic existence and was alone so much of the time, I could play as often and as long as I wanted,” he says. “I ended up becoming such a better pianist, a better writer, a better reader of music.” Dedicated to a woman named Lil (the de facto leader of the St. Peter’s congregation), In Plain Sight ultimately reveals the possibility of redemption and transformation even as your world falls apart.

In Plain Sight’s first single is the uplifting and shuffling boogie woogie “Can’t Stop the Rain.” Centered around a Southern rock arrangement reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” complete with a soaring gospel-tinged chorus, Francis’ latest single also prominently features a smoldering slide guitar solo from Derek Trucks. Underlying the whole affair is Francis’ unerring knack for a crafting an infectious hook paired with lived-in, world weary yet hopeful lyrics expressing a profound yet simple sentiment — gratitude. “I wrote that with my buddy David Shaw, who came up with the refrain and this idea that even though life’s going to throw all this shit at you, there’s still so many things to be grateful for,” Francis says.

Directed by Alec Basse, the recently released video for “Can’t Stop the Rain” is split between the Francis and his backing band performing in a sparse studio space and Francis playing on his childhood piano in a suburban styled home — in the rain. Towards the end of the video, we see Francis destroying his childhood piano, the same one he used for the song’s recording.

Francis is currently on a massive and extensive Stateside tour that included dates opening for The Black Pumas and stops at Bonnaroo, Americana Fest, Shaky Knees, and Outside Lands, as well as several other stops on the national festival circuit. The tour also includes two NYC area dates: a sold-out Mercury Lounge show on September 20, 2021 and a Brooklyn Bowl show on 9/22/21. You can check out the rest of the tour dates below. Tickets and other information is available at nealfrancis.com.

In Plain Sight is slated for a November 5, 2021 release through ATO Records.

With the release of their full-length debut, last year’s A Modern Man’s Way to Improve, Royal Horses — Shelby Kemp (vocals, guitar), Kenny Mann (bass) and Daniel Firth (drums) — firmly established a style that the band’s Shelby Kemp describes as “Mississippi Pine Stump Jangle,” and it draws from the genres that helped shaped the New South, including 70s rock, blues, rockabilly and folk but in a swaggering, genre-bending fashion, built around the trio’s deep and undeniable simpatico.

The trio’s Color Red debut “Time Wounds All Heals” is a dust kicking stomp that brings early electric Dylan and Creedence Clearwater Revival to mind — but with a friends bullshitting, jamming and sharing a bottle of cheap rotgut to pass the time sort of air. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the song’s lyrics describes spending a batch of nights with a dear friend, some wine and wild tales.

Since their formation in 2015, the Nashville, TN-based (by way of Florida) trio The Delta Troubadours, comprised of Gytis Garsys (lead vocals, guitar, keys), Jon Franklin (bass, vocals), and Ian Heausler (lead guitar, vocals), have developed a reputation across much of the Southeast for a gritty, Southern fried rock meets blues rock sound and for an energetic live set. 

“Stone Thrasher,” the first single off the Nashville-based band’s forthcoming sophomore EP will further cement their reputation for crafting songs with a familiar gritty Southern fried rock meets blues rock sound — but within a decidedly ambitious song structure featuring some incredibly psychedelic-tinged guitar licks, enormous, Foo Fighters-like, arena rock-friendly hooks, and a subtly sinister vibe, reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age’Songs for the Deaf. Or in other words, the band kicks ass and takes names  — what else can you want?

 

 

 

 

 

New Video: The Texas Gentlemen Return with Slasher Flick-Inspired Visuals for New Single “Pain”

Earlier this month, I wrote about  The Texas Gentlemen, an act comprised of a core group of bandleader and founding member Beau Bedford, Nik Lee, Daniel Creamer, Matt McDonald, Ryan Ake and a constantly evolving and rotating cast of collaborators and friends, that was initially assembled as an all-purpose backing band for an eclectic array of singer/songwriters including Leon Bridges, Nikki Lane, Shakey Graves, Delta Spirit’s Matthew Logan Vasquez, Jack Ingram, Terry Allen, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ray Benson, Joe Ely and many others — and in a similar fashion to The Wrecking Crew, The Muscle Shoals Swampers (who once backed Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and a lengthy list of soul legends), Booker T. and The M.G.’s and The Band. Now as you may recall, the members of The Texas Gentlemen backed the legendary Kris Kristofferson at this first Newport Folk Festival appearance in more than 45 years, and the set lead to a series of critically applauded shows across Texas.

Building on their growing reputation as a go-to backing band, the band signed to New West Records, who will release their full-length debut effort TX Jelly on September 15, 2017. Recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, the album, which was produced by the band’s Beau Bedford was recorded live to tape over four days in a raucous recording session and features material that touches on the blues, soul, folk, country rock, gospel and Southern rock. As Bedford described the recording sessions to the folks at Paste, “We set up our own version of Rock ‘n’ Roll Summer camp and invited our friends down to FAME studios. We figured at worst, we would have a great time as friends hanging out in one of the most historic studios in America. There was so much mojo once we turned all of the gear on, sounds just started popping out of the speakers, and the songwriters couldn’t help but feed off the energy. TX Jelly is the fruition of years of kinship and a deep hunger by our collective group for American roots music.”

TX Jelly’s first single “Habbie Doobie” was a sweaty, funky and hook-driven bit of down home, Southern rock that sounded as though it drew from The Allman Brothers, The Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Black Crowes but with the free-flowing improvised feel of a bunch of old friends jamming and hitting upon a groove, with each individual musician knowing where the other was going next. And while easily displaying the cool, self-assuredness of old pros, the song is a decidedly bold introduction to the band as an independent unit. Fittingly enough, TX Jelly’s second single “Pain” is a jangling and old-timey boogie that touches upon The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “What’s Your Name,” Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” and naturally, much of the sounds of the early 1970s — but much like the preceding single, they do so with the soulful and swaggering self-assuredness of old studio hands. 

Directed by Horatio Baltz, the recently released video for “Pain” is inspired by 70s and 80s slasher flicks and features a gorgeous femme fatale, who causes a hell of a lot of pain for her victims  — victims, who look quite a bit like members of the band. There’s sure to be pain in their lives, and a few bloody deaths, too. 

New Video: Goof Off with The Texas Gentleman in the Visuals for Their Funky Single “Habbie Doobie”

Currently comprised of core group of bandleader and founding member Beau Bedford, Nik Lee, Daniel Creamer, Matt McDonald, Ryan Ake and a constantly evolving and rotating cast of collaborators and friends, The Texas Gentlemen were initially assembled as an all-purpose backing band for an eclectic array of singer/songwriters including Leon Bridges, Nikki Lane, Shakey Graves, Delta Spirit’s Matthew Logan Vasquez, Jack Ingram, Terry Allen, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ray Benson, Joe Ely and many others, and in a similar fashion to The Wrecking Crew, The Muscle Shoals Swampers (who once backed Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and lengthy list of soul legends), Booker T. and The M.G.’s and The Band. Last year, the members of The Texas Gentlemen backed the legendary Kris Kristofferson at this first Newport Folk Festival appearance in more than 45 years, and the set lead to a series of critically applauded shows across Texas. 

Building on their growing reputation as a go-to backing band, the band signed to New West Records, who will release their full-length debut effort TX Jelly on September 15, 2017. Recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, the album, which was produced by the band’s Bedford was recorded live to tape over four days in a raucous recording session and features material that touches on the blues, soul, folk, country rock, gospel and Southern rock. As Bedford described the recording sessions to the  folks at Paste, “We set up our own version of Rock ‘n’ Roll Summer camp and invited our friends down to FAME studios. We figured at worst, we would have a great time as friends hanging out in one of the most historic studios in America. There was so much mojo once we turned all of the gear on, sounds just started popping out of the speakers, and the songwriters couldn’t help but feed off the energy. TX Jelly is the fruition of years of kinship and a deep hunger by our collective group for American roots music.”

“Habbie Doobie,” TX Jelly’s first single is a sweaty, funky and hook driven bit of down home, Southern rock that sounds as though it draws from The Allman Brothers, The Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Black Crowes but with the free-flowing improvised feel of a bunch of old friends jamming and hitting upon a groove, with each individual musician knowing where the other was going next. And while easily displaying the cool, self-assuredness of old pros, the song is a decidedly bold introduction to the band as an individual unit.In fact, interestingly enough the recently released video for “Habbie Doobie” features the members of The Texas Gentlemen jamming and goofing off in their Dallas, TX-based Modern Electric Sound Recorders Studio in a way that you’d almost expect them to do.