John Francis
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John Francis

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States | INDIE

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States | INDIE
Band Rock Singer/Songwriter


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"John Francis: The Songs I Wish I Would Have Written"

Tonight XPN Welcomes John Francis to the Tin Angel. The show is a CD release party for his excellent new album The Better Angels
that we featured here when it was released. John recently did a little guest blogging for us and while we were exchanging some e-mails we decided to ask him “what songs do you wished you’d written?” Considering Francis sets the bar pretty high as a songwriter himself, we were curious about what his answers would be.

“Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones
Its speculated among Gram Parsons loyalists and folklorists that Gram actually penned this one, then the Stones made it their own. Either way, this is one of those songs that has always existed since from time immemorial, out there in ether where songs live. I wish I’d wrote it, yes, but in a way that’s like saying I wish I’d ‘discovered’ electricity. It was always there, it just took some lunatic with a key on a kite string to capture it. “I know I dreamed you a sin and a lie, I have my freedom but I don’t have much time. Faith has been broken, tears must be cried, let’s do some livin’ after we die.” What the hell does it mean? Well, I don’t know, but you sure can feel it. What a strong and brave statement of the nature of a real love…to really love somebody…its messy, bloody, brutal, but transcendent and eternal. “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.”

“One” by U2.
Such a tactile description of those universal feelings…”You act like you never had love, and you want me to go without,” and “Love is a temple, love the higher law”. And the melody and the chord progression…the build and the climax at the end…its just a perfect song.

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.
The original version with all the verses. This song levels me. Romance, sex, spirituality, existentialism. “I tried my best, it wasn’t much. I couldn’t feel so I learned to touch. I tell the truth, haven’t come here to fool ya. And when its all been said and done, I’ll stand before the Lord of song with nothin’ on my tongue but “Hallelujah.”

John Francis’s CD Release Party is at Tin Angel, 20 S. 2nd St., 10:30 tonight. Tickets are $10 -

"John Francis Philly Record Release + great story"

It’s not surprising that John Francis has a song titled “Johnny Cash on the Radio”. The lonesome troubadour has never hid his love for the musical outlaw. The last time I heard about Francis, before the fact that he moved to Nashville, was a hilarious story where he had gotten his car booted (thanks to the PPA) and attempted to drive off with the boot still on. The story gets vague because I was listening to it in an inebriated state (and I’m guessing Francis was too when he had that bright idea) and laughing pretty hard. Like the vision that I had that evening, I recall to endings to this legendary tale. The first was that he rode off and was able to pop the boot from his tire while driving (which is an impressive feat in my opinion, but imagine the damage that was done to the car). The second was that the police happen to come upon him while he was attempting to do so, and he managed to get away on foot. Either tale embodies the rebellious spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. And I am sure would get a toast from Mr. Cash himself. Well, you should swing by the Tin Angel tonight where he will be celebrating the release of his sophomore album The Better Angels out on Dualtone Records. Catch him before the Philly cops do! Tin Angel, 20 S. 2nd St., 10pm, $10, 21+ - H.M. Kauffman - The Deli Magazine

"Music: Socially conscious John Francis has DJs taking notice"

Music: Socially conscious John Francis has DJs takingnotice

Philadelphia Daily News 215-854-5960
GIVEN HIS EARTHY, Americana rock-and-twangster ways and local connections, it's no surprise that John Francis has earned lots of love lately from the gang at WXPN-FM for his second long player, "The Better Angels," newly out on the Dualtone label.

Midday DJ Helen Leicht spotlights him often on her "Philly local" slot. Legendary 'XPN folk DJ Gene Shay has praised Francis for his "carefully crafted songwriting" and "mellow delivery," and characterized the artist as "twice as talented as most performers."

But the 32-year-old John Francis (who dropped the family name Maher for obvious reasons) doesn't have to be playing the "I'm from here" card anymore.

Radio programmers all over the planet are jumping on his rootsy-tuned new set of songs, especially ripe with the sort-of-honest, "How did we get in this mess?" questioning (on tunes like "The Way the Empire Fell," "People on the Edge of the World" and "Who?") that we used to count on guys like Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp and Johnny Cash to serve up in their musical missives.

Not coincidentally, Francis cut much of the set at Cash's Cabin Studio, in Hendersonville, Tenn., outside Nashville, with son John Carter Cash steering the production, and support from a great crop of seasoned musicians (some now touring with Francis). Then he finished off parts here with producer (and fan) Phil Nicolo at Studio 4, in Conshohocken, where Philly transplant Rachael Yamagata and Sarah Peasall layered on poignant backing vocals.

Tonight, John Francis is bringing it all back home for an album-release party concert at Tin Angel. Good reason to get on the phone with the guy earlier this week.

Q: You've relocated to Nashville. Was it to be in a region more compatible with your music?

A: Actually, I'm spending more time in Philly now than when I theoretically "lived" there. But I made the record with John Carter Cash, and in doing [it], I met a lot of great local musicians and started to feel at home.

The ghosts of Nashville past, they're all still present there, and I wanted to get deeper into those roots. I discovered a great current music scene that's left-of-center - songwriters who don't do exclusively country. What I do isn't really country enough for country radio stations. It's almost equal parts folk and rock and alt-country, and the comparisons I get are more often to artists like Jeff Buckley and Bruce Springsteen.

Q: What's the Cash studio like? Is it really a log cabin?

A: It is, built or at least renovated in the 1970s, part of a little sanctuary that Johnny called the Cedar Hill Refuge. It may have been relocated from another place. It's where he'd go to meditate, and where he recorded a lot of his last records.

Q: Your previous music came out on your own label. But the new album is a bigger production, on a well-known roots-rock label. Given the state of the economy and the music industry in general, how'd you pull that off?

A: Someone approached me after a show in Philadelphia, a private benefactor, who said, "I want to fund your next record." Never met the guy before. He gave me a budget, and I started shopping around for producers and studios.

I'd already written the song "Johnny Cash on the Radio" [another album standout and DJ fave], so, then, when the idea of working with John Carter Cash at his family studio came up, it just made total sense. It was one of those moments when destiny spoke up.

After we made the album, I started shopping it around. A bunch of labels sent scouts to check me out. After I moved to Nashville, I met the people from Dualtone and we clicked right away. They've been really helpful.

They've got international distribution for the album through Time Warner, and it's doing really well, up there on the Americana charts vying with the latest from Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan.

Q: You're the son of an Episcopalian minister and attended Messiah College, a school heavy on religious education, I'm guessing, in Grantham, Pa. Did you hear a lot of sermons at home, and did you ever think of going into the clergy yourself? Clearly there are a lot of moral directives in your work. And it seems to be flying in the face of most music today, which is rather frivolous, get-away-from-it-all stuff.

A: I think people like to be sedated. I'm not really a Franciscan, but I do believe in "comforting the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable."

I don't feel the need to apologize or explain my topical songs, what some people call my protest songs. I like them to speak for themselves. But there's a lot of love songs on the album, too. Love is my favorite kind of politics.

There was a lot more music in my house than there were sermons. My parents were into Neil Young, Bob Dylan, good rock, folk and a little bit of country. At college, I was in both the English and world-religion departments. But in terms of the social landscape, there was a handful of black sheep that I'd consider my people, my group. The people who asked questions instead of giving answers.

I spent the majority of my time as a college student fighting tooth and nail. And I'm really glad I did. I grew from adversity.

Q: You've already won two ASCAP awards for songs on "The Better Angels" - the Sammy Cahn Lyricist of the Year Award for "Love Came to Me Dressed in Red" and the Jay Gorney Award for socially conscious lyrics for "Who," maybe my favorite song on the album. I'm having trouble connecting you with Sammy Cahn, though, a pop guy who used to write frothy, romantic material for guys like Frank Sinatra. How do you figure?

A: Well, that "Dressed in Red" song is romantic. And, I promise, the next record will be strictly frivolous.

John Francis CD-release party, with Kelley McRae and John Mallinen, Tin Angel, 20 S. 2nd St., 10:30 tonight, $10, 215-928-0978,

"Singer-songwriter John Francis seeks answers, asks questions through music"

John Francis is a man of God.

Certainly not in the religious sense, although such a path wouldn't be surprising given that his parents were both Episcopalian ministers. And not in the fervent, come-now-on-bended-knee approach to a Higher Power, filled with supplication and constantly seeking penance.

But he's a man of God just the same, even if he's not sure of God's exact nature or his own role in God's universe. It's all part of the journey, Francis told The Daily Times this week, and the fact that he has more questions than answers is a sign that he's on the right path.

“I'm still trying to get away from my roots and simultaneously embrace them — that's the only honest thing I can do,” Francis said. “I still have a lot more questions than answers, and quite frankly, I don't trust any sort of real belief system that has more answers than questions. Isn't that one of the great things about someone like Dr. King or Gandhi or Jesus Christ? They asked the most important questions, and they asked them in a really public way.

“That's why they were such great leaders, both emotionally and spiritually. I'm not for a second comparing myself to any of those three guys, but I do think the practice of asking questions of God, of tradition and of social structures are very, very important disciplines.”

Next week, Francis will bring the art form he uses to ask those questions to the Preservation Pub in downtown Knoxville. He's touring in support of “Better Angels,” a new album released earlier this month on Dualtone Records that's fierce in its passion while diving deep into the murky waters of the human condition. It's a record forged from Francis's extensive travels and a background immersed in music.

“I think from the moment I could sing, I felt it, felt that sort of higher purpose that I feel when it comes to music,” Francis said. “Maybe that has something to do with the church, or maybe it has something to do with the sheer power of music and song ... or maybe it has something to do with both. But I've always been quite aware that this thing that I was participating in was literally moving people from point A to point B.

“I think music can do that for a whole community of people, or a whole country, or a whole generation. We've seen it happen during the Civil Rights Movement, when people were singing ‘We Shall Overcome' while dogs were attacking them and they were getting sprayed by fire hoses. In modern times, a song like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit' sort of encapsulated the existential malaise of a whole new generation.”

Born in New York and raised in rural Pennsylvania, Francis credits his early interest in music to his parents, who played and wrote songs in addition to their pastoral duties. From the family piano to Sunday mornings in the church choir, he grew up with music and spirituality intertwined — it became more than just entertainment for him, and ever since, he's felt driven to use it for a higher purpose, he said.

“There's a certain drama involved in every Sunday morning, so I think the nature of my sort of background and upbringing leans toward seeing the world as an artist would see the world,” he said.

By the time he was 12, he was writing and recording his own music; at 18, he was studying literature and world religions in college and traveling all over the world to study poetry, music and folklore. From American Indian reservations to Ireland to China, he soaked up stories and traditions, learning about the connection of music to the history and culture of a people and comparing it to what he had experienced in his own life.

“I put a lot of work into it and spent a lot of time paying dues,” he said. “The good news is that I'm not halfway done paying dues — I'm just getting started. I'm going back to Switzerland in a couple of weeks. There's just something about finding yourself in a different culture — whether it's studying Irish folk music in Ireland or Chinese poetry in China or spending time on an American Indian reservation.”

Add to his development a healthy dose of American musical and literary figures — Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain — and you can hear a man who comes across on “Better Angels” as a cross between Tom Waits and a nondenominational shaman, a man who taps into a higher consciousness every time he picks up a guitar and gives everything he has to a song. Whether it's the howling lament of “War Register Blues,” in which the narrator describes how his brother lost an arm in Baghdad, to “Prayer In a Time of Drought,” in which he implores the heavens to cool fevered brows and violent tempers alike, Francis gets across one trait above all others — conviction.

“I think people are mirrors for each other, and what a good artist does is hold up a big mirror to himself or herself and then to the audience, or the listener, or the reader,” he said. “In doing so, we're all mirrors of each other. I guess maybe it comes down to my own personal journey, because I'd like to think it's been an empathic one.

“I think there's something about empathy that is possibly the deepest and most profound of human emotions. In my opinion, if art is not doing that or is not some kind of vehicle for that, then it's not art.” -

"John Francis to celebrate new CD with Tin Angel show"

By: Naila Francis

Rocker/singer-songwriter John Francis will return to Philadelphia next month for a show to celebrate the release of his new album, “The Better Angels.”

Issued Nov. 9 on Dualtone Records, the album has already been gaining great momentum. It was one of the most added albums on Americana stations in its first week, keeping company with Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and The Avett Brothers on Sirius XM’s “The Loft” and “Outlaw Country,” and WXPN in Philadelphia, among others, with the songs “Johnny Cash on the Radio” and “People On the Edge of the World” capturing the most spins.

The album was produced by John Carter Cash in the legendary Cash Cabin Studio where Johnny Cash recorded many of his last several masterpieces and boasts playing by longtime Marty Stuart/Lucinda Williams guitarist Kenny Vaughan, Ken Coomer of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, pedal steel player Robbie Turner (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson), and Michael Rhodes (Johnny Cash, J.J. Cale) on bass. Francis is also joined on vocals by celebrated songwriter Rachael Yamagata.

ASCAP honored Francis with two national lyricist awards for “The Better Angels”: The Sammy Cahn Lyricist of the Year Award for the song “Love Came To Me Dressed In Red,” and the Jay Gorney Award for socially conscious lyrics for the song, “Who?”

It’s no wonder that Francis’ sharp, eloquent songs — which draw on everything from high and lonesome bare Americana to barroom rockabilly and gritty story-songs — have won him an enviable pack of industry admirers.

Francis will perform at The Tin Angel, 20 S. Second St., on Dec. 3, with special guest Kelley McRae.

Show time: 10:30 p.m.

Tickets: $10.

Information: 215-928-0770;; -

"John Francis at Grimey's"

John Francis at Grimey's
When: Tue., Nov. 23, 6 p.m.
Price: Free

John Carter Cash's production adds Tennessee grit and many excellent Nashville musicians to John Francis' new full-length release The Better Angels, and the result is a protest record that mostly avoids the folkie pitfalls of good intentions and freeze-dried arrangements. A New York City native who cut his teeth in Philadelphia's folk scene, Francis sings in a vibrato-laden tenor and writes impassioned songs about the tottering American empire and the death of the middle class. "Johnny Cash on the Radio" casts Francis as a rambler and country-music fan, while "People on the Edge of the World" creeps along in the shadow of Tom Waits. You get the idea he takes his insights a touch more seriously than he ought to, but Francis gets it right on “Mississippi” — it's spare, lyrical and suitably impassioned, possibly because it's about a real woman and not an imaginary state.
— Edd Hurt -

"Guest Blogger: John Francis picks his favorite video jams"

Guest Blogger: John Francis picks his favorite video jams
November 17, 2010 | 3:39 PM | By Bruce Warren

Singer-songwriter John Francis just released his new album, The Better Angels (which we recently featured as one of our local picks of the day). We asked John to do a little guest blogging for us and pick some of his favorite musicians—one song from each them and why he chose them. (John’s CD-release party is Wednesday, December 3rd at Tin Angel.)

Bruce Springsteen – “Streets Of Philadelphia”
“Receive me brother with your fateless kiss, or will we leave each other alone like this on the streets of Philadelphia?” Springsteen is one of my favorite artists and this song embodies why. He’s go that “human touch,” he speaks for us, and for people who have no voice, giving shape and texture and flesh to those often times intangible places inside each of us. In my years living in Philadelphia, I lived some of the lines in this song, as many of us have.

Public Enemy - “Can’t Truss It”
I love Chuck D cause he is a teacher. A historian, a truth-teller. The record ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ came out when I was in the 9th grade. The lessons in his lyrics confirmed my horrifying suspicions about American history and racism. Public Enemy’s story-songs are also a call to awareness and action. Thanks Chuck, it’s not easy to tell the truth, I’m grateful.

Johnny Cash – “Folsom Prison Blues”
This is Johnny Cash performing “Folsom Prison Blues” at San Quentin Prison with his band. This is why I love Johnny Cash and consider myself to be his student: “I wear the black for the poor and beaten down, livin’ on the hopeless hungry side of town. I wear it for the thousands who have died, believin’ that the Lord was on their side”. (From the song ‘Man in Black). He distilled all of his rage against injustice and his empathy for society’s outcasts into a singular symbol: wearing the color black. That’s why everyone from old guard Southern Baptists to tattoo covered punks with green hair can relate to Johnny, prisoners to presidents. He transcends because he is earthed in his own humanity and in all of humanity at large.

Bob Dylan – “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
Shakespeare, Camus, Whitman, Twain…got nothin’ on this guy. I don’t trust anyone who dislikes Bob Dylan. Listen not just to the words, but the inflection and delivery. “He not busy being born is busy dieing.” What makes Dylan great is how he gets out of the way of the song.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - “Up Above My Head”
One of my favorite singers / guitar players. She just lifts your spirit, doesn’t she? How about her guitar playing! Can I get an ‘amen’? Feel it? -

"Johnny Cash on the Radio"

We're very excited about a new player in the world so easily described as "Americana." We first learned of Francis through Some Velvet Blog, and have been enjoying his fantastic new record, The Better Angels which dropped Tuesday on Dualtone. Following in the tradition of bands you know we already love, see Roadside Graves, Francis blends barroom, roadhouse country with the softer more melancholy touches of a veteran songwriter. Clearly a fresh talent, and someone we're glad we've discovered! -

"Album Review: John Francis – The Better Angels"

This past Tuesday (Nov. 9) was the release of John Francis’ new album, The Better Angels. This album contains some very emotionally intense lyrics coupled with some of the most beautiful melodies, spread across multiple genres/styles — American, country, folk, and rock all heard with great production.

The opening track, “The Way the Empire Fell” is such an in-your-face, high energy rock song, and a real ear-opener. “Johnny Cash on the Radio” is a fun, country sounding Francis and I feel like dancing along to this song. A song composed of a series of thought provoking questions is “Who?” I love how the intro piano melody really pulls you into “People On the Edge of the World”. Aww, “The Beautiful One”. I absolutely love this song for the lyrics, music, and vocals blend so perfectly. John Francis’ voice really shines on this track. Plus, I’m a sucker for a lovely, moving string arrangement. “It was only for a moment then we’re gone like horses over hills and setting suns. My love comes back to me dressed up in songs.” Great lyrics from “Love Came To Me Dressed In Red” and the harmonies on that song are something else. “Brother’s Keeper is a great example of Francis’ songwriting and storytelling.

All in all, I enjoyed every listening of this album and get something new out of the music with each listen. I just love that fact about great music and great albums like The Better Angels by John Francis. Remember, if we blog about an album it’s only because it comes highly recommended by us.

[LISTEN] Here’s “Johnny Cash on the Radio” from the album The Better Angels by John Francis:

John Francis’ cd-release show for The Better Angels is at 10:30 p.m. on Friday, December 3rd,2010 at Tin Angel (Philadelphia, PA) | 21+ show | tickets: $10. -

"John Francis: The Better Angels"

John Francis has all the trappings of becoming big in the Americana scene. He has the tunes, the voice, the lyrics and he sings about politics and heartbreak. His sophomore release The Better Angels deals with the credit crunch, late night radio. As a musician's musician he was able to enlist notable players to back him up, including Robby Turner (Dixie Chicks) and original Wilco and Uncle Tupelo drummer Ken Coomer.

Francis is a sharp observer, who can write about big things (The Way the Empire Fell, War Register Blues ) and everyday troubles (Love O Love, Until My Train). He can get mad, but he always channels his anger through pinpointed words. A few people might even decide they should finally get into Johnny Cash after hearing his rollicking pastiche Johnny Cash on the Radio.

The players:
Kenny Vaughan: lead guitarist
Ken Coomer: drums
Robby Turner: pedal steel
Rachael Yamagata: vocals
Michael Rhodes: bass
Todd Erk: bass
John Francis: The Better Angels

The Better Angels is distributed through Dualtone Records. Release date: November 9.

1. The Way the Empire Fell
2. Johnny Cash on the Radio
3. Who?
4. People On the Edge of the World
5. The Beautiful One
6. Prayer In A Time of Drought
7. Call Me When Youre Ready
8. War Register Blues
9. Love Came To Me Dressed In Red
10. Mississippi
11. Everything Is Falling Away
12. Brother's Keeper
13. Love O Love, Until My Train

USA live dates:

* 11/12 The Basement, Nashville, TN
* 11/29 Preservation Pub, Knoxville, TN
* 12/02 The Living Room, New York City, NY
* 12/03 Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA

Swiss live dates:

* 12/10 Blues Eck, Schlatt
* 12/11 Loft, Frauenfeld
* 12/12 Open Mic Biel, Biel
* 12/16 Molton, Winterthur
* 12/17 Songbird Festival, Davos
* 12/20 Corazon, Zurich
* 12/23 Papiersaal, Zurich

» - Here Comes the Flood

"Random Friday 8 Half A Six Pack"

John Francis’ sophomore album – The Better Angels” will be out next month (11.9). John reminds me a little of Hank Williams I and III. The album was produced by John Carter Cash in his Cash Cabin Studio – Hendersonville, TN. Late Greats fave Rachael Yamagata lends her lovely voice to the record. -

"Random Friday 8 Half A Six Pack"

John Francis’ sophomore album – The Better Angels” will be out next month (11.9). John reminds me a little of Hank Williams I and III. The album was produced by John Carter Cash in his Cash Cabin Studion – Hendersonville, TN. Late Greats fave Rachael Yamagata lends her lovely voice to the record. -

"Helen Leicht’s Local Pick Of The Day: John Francis’ “Johnny Cash On The Radio”"

With John Francis‘ major-label debut, The Better Angels, ready to drop on November 9th, it’s safe to say that we’re looking forward to seeing the rest of the country heap the same praise on the Philly-based musician as WXPN has in recent years. It’s not just that Francis is a rural-Pennsylvania-raised local whose foot-stomping country-rock and commanding stage presence set him apart from every other would-be good-old-boy with an acoustic guitar. It’s that Francis also brings some considerable cred to the table: He’s the son of Christian ministers, and spent his youth listening to gospel and folk music while singing in the church choir; the record, meanwhile, was recorded at Cash Cabin Studio (which was originally built Johnny Cash in 1978) by John Carter Cash and will be released by the Nashville-based label Dualtone Music Group. (That kind of cred goes a long way when you’re trying to sell your dusty soundtrack to the American Dream gone wrong to the cowboy-boot-and-hat-wearing contingent.) And, with all of Francis’ obvious connections to Cash, it’s no wonder the refrain to the lead single off his upcoming album is, “Just let that country station play / that Johnny Cash on the radio.” John Francis’ record-release show for The Better Angels is at 10:30 p.m. on Friday, December 3rd, at Tin Angel Friday; tickets to the 21+ show are $10. -

"John Francis Preps Major Label Debut; Schedules Album Release Party At Tin Angel"

October 18th, 2010 12:04 pm
John Francis Preps Major Label Debut; Schedules Album Release Party At Tin Angel

Over the summer, PW’s Tara Murtha profiled rising Philly singer-songwriter John Francis and mentioned his forthcoming major label debut, Better Angels, which comes out early November:

Better Angels was produced by John Carter Cash at the famed Cabin Studio built by Johnny Cash in ’78, then converted to a studio in ’93 to begin the American Recordings series.

To get a sound befitting what Francis calls the “legacy of royalty” crowned in that cabin over the years, Francis and John Carter cherry-picked a firecracker band that includes Nashville all-stars Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart, Lucinda Williams), Michael Rhodes (Steve Earle), Ken Coomer (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo), Robby Turner (Johnny, Willie and Waylon) and Bob Britt (John Fogerty) as well as local musicians Ross Bellenoit, Chris Giraldi, Todd Erk and Rachael Yamagata.

“[Recording] was laid back and slow-paced, license to let ideas flow,” Francis says. “But at the same time it was surreal and larger than life to play in Johnny’s studio and with that band.”

Speaking of Johnny, check out the clip above, which is Francis’ new single, “Johnny Cash on the Radio.” You’ll be able to hear that and lots more new stuff if you head over to Tin Angel on Friday, December 3rd (seems a long ways away, but it’s not, really) — that’s when Francis will play a Better Angels release party. Tickets are $10; get ‘em soon because this show’s definitely gonna sell out. -

"John Francis Makes the Album of his LIfe"

You probably don’t know Philly rocker/singer-songwriter John Francis. You should. He’s never been one of those blogrock bands of the moment. His web site ain’t really cool. He doesn’t look like an indie-rocker. In fact, he’s usually decked out in some fine cowboy boots, sharp jeans, one of those cool ornate Gram Parson shirts. He spends a lot of time in Nashville where he recorded his excellent new album, but was born in NYC, raised in rural Pennsylvania, went to college in Central Pennsylvania and settled in to Philly before he released his debut full-length album in 2005. It’s Philly mostly that has embraced him for the last five years; the station I work at has been a big supporter. As they say in radio lingo: “we played the shit out of his last record.”

One November 9th, John will release his new album on Dualtone Records called The Better Angels. It’s brings together his love of rock, country, folk and gospel and forms a unique, original whole. Don’t call it alt-country cause it’s not. Don’t call it rock cause it’s not. The gospel is in the conviction and spirituality of the lyrics, not the “Raise your hands to the sky” and “Praise The Lord” thing we think of as gospel. It’s all of the above, though. This is the album that John’s banking on for a while. You can hear it almost immediately that from the first note on the album’s opening rocker “The Way The Empire Fell.” You can just sense he’s poured every ounce of passion and massive talent in to this record. The album was produced by John Carter Cash (yeah, that guy’s son). It features a star studded cast of Nashville Cats including guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Ken Coomer and pedal steel guitarist Robby Turner. Francis scores extra points for having the lovely Rachael Yamagata (Philly!) help him out on the dark honky-tonk of the song “People On The Edge Of The World.”

Francis is an incredible lyricist who touches on a full range of emotion and worldly observation. He was honored by ASCAP as the recipient of the prestigious Sammy Cahn Lyricist of the Year Award for his song “Love Came To Me Dressed In Red.” Previous winners include John Mayer and Josh Ritter; not too shabby. John also recently won the Jay Gorney Award from ASCAP, for the song “Who?” which is also on his new album. These two songs tend towards the ballad-y side of Francis (a side of him as equally as good as his “rock-side.”) and it’s on these songs where Francis shines in a “Help Me Make It Through The Night” kind of way. Every once in a while he sounds a little like Jeff Buckley; another every once in a while he sounds like Chris Isaak. But Francis definitely has a voice of his own, sharpened by his pen and smart poetic observations. Francis’s songs are deeply real and touching and The Better Angels is a notable achievement that should be a game changer for him. -

"The Music Issue"

When John Francis played an as-close-to-hometown-as-it-gets show last week at Chaplin’s Music Cafe in Spring City, co-owner Dennis Coleman beamed with pride. “If you didn’t know this, [Francis] is a local boy done good,” he told the crowd. And he’s right. Francis, son of ministers raised singing ’round the church piano in rural Pennsylvania, just signed with Nashville-based label Dualtone Music Group and is readying to release his major label debut The Better Angels on Nov. 9.

Better Angels was produced by John Carter Cash at the famed Cabin Studio built by Johnny Cash in ’78, then converted to a studio in ’93 to begin the American Recordings series.

To get a sound befitting what Francis calls the “legacy of royalty” crowned in that cabin over the years, Francis and John Carter cherry-picked a firecracker band that includes Nashville all-stars Kenny Vaughan (Marty Stuart, Lucinda Williams), Michael Rhodes (Steve Earle), Ken Coomer (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo), Robby Turner (Johnny, Willie and Waylon) and Bob Britt (John Fogerty) as well as local musicians Ross Bellenoit, Chris Giraldi, Todd Erk and Rachael Yamagata.

“[Recording] was laid back and slow-paced, license to let ideas flow,” Francis says. “But at the same time it was surreal and larger than life to play in Johnny’s studio and with that band.”

In the tradition of legendary American songwriters, Francis’ catalogue brims with characters either chasing or glimpsing the American dream—or flaming out and huffing its fumes the whole way down. When it comes to lyrics, Francis—winner of the prestigious ASCAP Sammy Cahn songwriting award for Better Angels track “Love Came to Me Dressed in Red”—brings a gun to the knife fight.

The dexterity helps Francis command a room. “He’s no pussy on stage,” whispered a friend at the show. After Chaplin’s got rowdy by listening-room standards—one drunk guy declared the U.S.A. the greatest country in the world and suggested another red-faced gent kindly leave if he disagreed—Francis calmed the crowd with “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” a song he co-wrote with John Carter about Johnny Cash’s dying words to his son.

Once he’s got your attention, though, Francis is just as likely to beat back the brooding poetics with goodtime rabble-rousing and playful peels of lapsteel, porch-stompers that say, Hey, since the walls are crumbling, we may as well burn down the barn. (T.M.) - Philadelphia Weekly

"Philadelphia Calls John Francis Back Home"

"...wide range of musical and literary influences, and a voice compared to the late Jeff Buckley and U2's Bono."
- The Metro

"Benefit show for Philly "Music Ambassador" John Franics"

Established over the past couple of years by the Philly based brother-sister team of Bill and Brandy Butler, the Philadelphia Sessions (TPS) is a non-profit group that supports the development of local singer-songwriters and, as they say on their site, exists “to positively expand the reputation and recognition of the city of Philadelphia through its music.” To that end, part of what TPS has done is set up a program where they send Philly singer-songwriters abroad as musical ambassadors of our city and secure them venues where they can perform.

Of course, this isn’t a cheap endeavor, which brings us to a benefit show happening at 8 p.m. on January 30th at the Burlap and Bean Coffeeshop in Newtown Square for emerging local musician John Francis, whose twangy folk-pop tunes have an old-school-country grit to them (he’s often been called a cross between Johnny Cash and Jeff Buckley). For his most recent album, The Better Angels, he went down to Nashville to work with producer John Carter Cash (yep, Johnny and June’s son); in the studio he teamed up with ex-Wilco/Uncle Tupelo drummer Ken Coomer, Lucinda Williams’ longtime guitarist Kenny Vaughn, Philly’s own Rachael Yamagata, and others.

TPS is putting on the show to help support a European residency for Francis in the coming months that’s slated to includes shows in Switzerland, Germany, England, Scotland, and Ireland. If you want to help the world see what Philly’s got to offer musically and/or check out Francis for yourself, you can reserve tickets right here. They’re $12 (plus a $1 processing fee). Or you can get ‘em for $15 at the door the night of the show.

[Photo by Sarah Green.] - Philadelphia Weekly

"john francis’ “johnny cash on the radio”"

john francis must be a hell of a talent or has a set of incriminating photos of someone. his second full length release, the better angels, was produced by john carter cash in the cash cabin studios in hendersonville, tn, and features the likes of kenny vaughn (lucinda williams guitarist), ken coomer (uncle tupelo, wilco), robby turner (pedal steel player for highwaymen and dixie chicks), rachael yamagata and bunch of other nashville players. havent heard the record, but the single is pretty kick ass, and with this kind of lineup expectations are pretty high. the better angels is due out on november 9 on dualtone records. -

"John Francis"

"Sharp pop style, intense folk/country sensibility"

- Philadelphia Inquirer

"Dan Reed Quote"

"Great hooks, engaging songs, and the kind of emotional voice that we rarely hear... if John Francis does nothing else with his career (which I doubt, by the way), he has already given us a pop gem in "Heavy, Heavy Love" a song which should blare out of every car radio at least a thousand times this year..."
- Dan Reed, WXPN, Music Director

"Make It A Double"

"Artful, brooding,(think Damien Rice, David Gray), Francis paints rich, atmospheric portraits of a troubling world in songs like 'Johnny Cash is Dead' and 'Love in the Fallout Shelter". A major label would be wise to pick up and run with this extremely well-done indie project. John Francis serves up 'Strong Wine & Spirits and I say make it a double."
Jonathan Takiff, Daily News

- Jonathan Takiff, Philadelphia Daily News

"Raised the Bar"

"John Francis and his band have raised the bar"
Philadelphia Folk Alliance

- Philadelphia Music Alliance

"Inspired Lyricist Soars"

"Literary lyricists whose blunt, emotional works about love, family, youth and land, etched with quirky but recognizable details, lacked pretension. Inspired lyricist, John Francis shone with his elegant fluid voice, a trilling soprano that on "Trouble in These Times" soared like Antony"

- A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Quote from Producer, Phil Nicolo"

"Insight and depth far beyond his years. Whether singing about a passionate love affair or social injustice, there is a heartfelt sincerity in his music"
~ Phil Nicolo, Producer (John Lennon, Sting, Billy Joel, James Taylor) - Phil Nicolo, President of Philadelphia Chapter of The Recording Academy

"Celebrating the Human Experience"

""...whether he's finding the grace in ordinary moments, or sharing his perspective on the struggles of the day, John Francis makes music that captures life in all its minutia and majesty."
~ Naila Francis - The Mainline Intelligencer

"Swinging Bridge Review"

"...Johnny Cash is Dead" followed by "Dear Ophelia,"...warm melodic tone with an almost nostalgic feel tempered with quick bursts of hard strumming. With the playing, one couldn't help notice his amazing voice that was able to reach the high notes and hold them. His talent for song writing came through."
- Swinging Bridge

"Dr. Jekyll and a not so evil Mr. Hyde"

John Francis
Contributing Writer

The first thing you need to know about going to see John Francis perform is that there are two kinds of live shows-and you never know which you're going to get. The first guy is balls-out rock and roll Johnny. Balls-out rock and roll Johnny blasts through his songs, fedora cocked, guitar swinging, belting it out with his fist in the air between blowing into the harmonica with the joy of a five o'clock whistle.

Then there are the quieter, more intimate performances, like a recent set at a Nick Drake tribute downstairs at World Café Live. That time, John Francis appeared on stage with almost defiant conviction, strumming and singing Who Took the Heart out of the Heartland? to the crowd through a halo of spotlight. It's moments like this when his voice rings clear as a bell that you can hear the political sentiments of an artist whose live shows are just as often a rock and roll Molotov cocktail of vices and verses as they can be quietly transfixing.

Today, John Francis is working on his second full-length album, a follow-up to last year's Strong Wine & Spirits. He kicks off his autumn tour this week by opening up for Suzanne Vega at the Sellersville Theater. A highlight of the tour includes stops in Ireland, a country where Francis says he feels at home in from having spent time already studying music and immersing himself in his family's past there.

While the music community proper is beginning to bestow accolades on Francis for his writing talent-his song My Love Comes to Me Dressed in Red is currently under review for an ASCAP songwriting award-the powers that be in the international diplomatic community are also recognizing Francis from among the tide of musicians who have been showing a new-wave protest singer side in the last few years. Francis was handpicked to play at the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty at the UN building in New York this October.

This year is particularly significant for the annual event because it marks the end of the first decade of the international movement toward the eradication of poverty. Francis will be playing alongside Kofi Annan, General-Secretary of the United Nations, who will speak in person in honor of the commemoration.

A Day in the Life
On this particular Saturday afternoon, Francis sits at a coffee shop in the Italian Market to get some writing done between sips of Dunhill cigarettes and his third, fourth, fifth cup of coffee. The more Francis talks about his background, the more it begins to make sense how the son of an Episcopalian priest and Catholic mother from a one-traffic-light town became a city boy with a mystic's heart and a passion for international justice.

Aware that the career of a songwriting musician can be conflict between prophecy and profit, Francis talks about finding himself swaying crowds in the richest areas of the country while singing about the outrage of poverty. For him such contradiction represents the sheer obvious imbalance in the world, of resources like food and medicine and clean water.

"I've seen it," he says. "I've spent time in the third world, and I will sing about those things. Not because I'm trying to rock or disturb people, but because I am disturbed by those things."

"It really needs to come from a personal space. So I don't appreciate it, and I can spot it from a mile away, when someone is just getting on a political bandwagon... I don't sit down and try to write something political. I won't, I can't really do that," he says.

After taking a break from school to spend time in Tibet and rural China, Francis graduated with a literature degree and began what he refers to as an open-mike tour of Philadelphia. He got his professional start in January 2003, when he won an open mic contest at The Point in Bryn Mawr. The prize was the opportunity to open for the next big show, which turned out to be local favorites Stargazer Lily. Meanwhile, he had impressed esteemed producer Phil Nicolo (John Lennon, Sting, Billy Joel, Lauryn Hill, Bob Dylan, etc) enough that Nicolo offered to produce Francis's debut Philadelphia EP. So many people showed up just to see him on the opening bill that The Point invited him to play his first headlining show as a CD release show that March. The show sold out.

"Anything that's worth saying, it's gotta come from your person, your identity. It's got to flow out naturally, from your observations, the things that move you and are important to you. The things that scare or infuriate you about the world," he says between sips. "That's true for a love song, a political song, for social satire."

Mercy for Cities
We're at a full-band show at Milkboy in Ardmore. The full-band John Francis show features Todd Erk on bass, Ivan Funk on drums, Ross Bellanoit on guitar and Wendy Gaynor singing background vocals. It's worth noting that Bellanoit, AKA Rolling Thunder, is a musician who leaves cocky guitar guys in the audience squeezing their girlfriends a bit tighter on their way out the door. Bellanoit's skills are a local legend. At the quieter shows, Bellanoit often accompanies Johnny onstage as a duo.

John has just roared into a brawling rendition of Mercy for Cities after transforming a stiff audience into a crowd of clapping hands and nodding heads offering up random outbursts of "Yeah!" The cameras are rolling for a feature on a local morning news show, it's hot as hell in there, and John's voice soars out:

I dreamed a dream of the city in the key of C-major, skyscrapers, and stars between the lovers and a thousand sad faces, fugitive barrooms and streetcars

I live in subway where nobody sees you, and people parade past like pigeons

I wrap myself in the flag of my country, there's music down here but nobody's listenin

It's ironic, because the 70 or so people in the audience aren't doing anything but listening. It reminds me of a story that John told me about driving all the way to Pittsburgh to play a show.

"I got paid a grilled cheese sandwich, but still I thought 'I'm going to sleep really well tonight because I know that I had the crowd'. They were loud and not listening when I started playing and before the first song was over, I had every last one of them. The bartender stopped pouring drinks, everyone's listening. That's what I shoot for," he said. "What's a storyteller who has no audience for his story?"

To learn more about John Francis, visit or

To learn more about the First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty 1997-2006
- Play Philadelphia


The Philadelphia EP - August 2004
produced, mixed and mastered by Phil Nicolo, Studio 4
all songs available on Itunes, Rhapsody, Napster, and most download stores.
Featured on WXPN, Philadelphia, 88.5 in '04 - '05

Strong Wine & Spirits - October 2005
produced by Devin Greenwood
additional editing by Shelly Yakus
released locally, independently
heavy rotation on WXPN (Philadelphia),
mild rotation on WSTW (Delaware's Top 40),
Amherst College Radio, WYEP (Pittsburgh)

The Better Angels - November 9, 2010
produced by John Carter Cash
released on Dualtone Records



Drawing on the deep well of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Folk, and Country John Francis conjures the spirits of his eloquent brand of songwriting. His live shows range in dynamics from pin-drop intimacy to all the spitfire of a raucous, chicken-wire barroom and a big-tent revival all rolled up in one.

John Francis has just finished his 2nd full-length record, "The Better Angels”, produced by John Carter Cash in the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, TN. There, Johnny and June recorded much of their last several masterpieces. John Carter Cash has produced material for Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, George Jones, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Roseanne Cash, June Carter Cash, and worked alongside Rick Rubin as associate producer of his father's "American Recordings". John Carter Cash pulled together some the best players Nashville (and the world) has to offer, including Kenny Vaughan (longtime Lucinda Williams and Marty Stuart guitarist), Ken Coomer (original Uncle Tupelo and Wilco drummer) and Robby Turner (pedal steel player for the Highwaymen and the Dixie Chicks). Rachael Yamagata is also featured on vocals.

"The Better Angels" spans the landscape of the human heart and the heart of America. Much like the title, taken from a line of Lincoln’s inaugural speech, these songs are rooted in rich American soil. The characters and themes are fiction and nonfiction, lovers and the lovesick, rebels and wanderers, patriots and fallen soldiers, saints and drunkards, the beautiful and the broken: but each profoundly real and human. Plumbing the ‘heart of the heartland’, Francis keeps the folk/country tradition of storytelling alive, but charges it with a new bolt of lightning. It’s the kind of lightning that strikes so rarely in this cookie-cutter, “guy with guitar” era. Potent and prophetic, the songs on “The Better Angels” Francis’ otherworldly voice... simply can not be denied.

Raised in a Pennsylvania farming town, Francis started to show his musical gifts at an early age. The gospel and folk music of his upbringing happened on Sunday mornings in the choir and at home gathered around the family piano. The son of musicians and ministers, Francis grew up playing music with his parents in that little country church. As a young child, he was entranced by his father's Elvis 45’s and his mother's Neil Young, Dylan, and Johnny Cash. John Francis would croon along as if his soul depended on it, and he still sings that way.

At 12, Francis started writing, recording, and performing. At 18, he enrolled as a literature and world religions major at Messiah College near Harrisburg, PA. During these years, Francis traveled extensively in Ireland, China, American Indian reservations, and the deep South of the U.S. to experience and study firsthand the poetry, music, and folklore in each corner of the world. He immersed himself in the classics of poetry and prose, honing his craft as a songwriter. It is easy to see Francis' literary background in his songs. Francis has played in dive bars and cathedrals, street corners and capital buildings, prisons and rodeos, back porches, barn dances, balconies, ballparks, arenas, theaters and smoky sawdust taverns. He played upon invitation for the United Nations Summit for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty.

Keeping a rigorous touring schedule, Francis has played over 200 dates every year for the last few years, clocking over 150,000 miles in the last 2 ½ alone. Francis has played in listening rooms all over the U.S., Ireland, the UK, Germany and Switzerland.

In October of 2005, Francis independently released the critically acclaimed "Strong Wine & Spirits" whose single, "Heavy, Heavy Love" garnered extensive radio play in the North East. Early in 2006, the song was in the top ten most played on Philadelphia's WXPN where it stayed for three months. The regional success of 'Strong Wine...' paved the way for Francis' feature story on ABC News and a feature performance on XM's 'Live from the Loft' in New York City. This led to several sold out shows at well-known venues including the Tin Angel, and World Café Live.

Francis was honored by ASCAP as recipient of the prestigious Sammy Cahn Lyricist of the Year Award. Previous winners include John Mayer, Josh Ritter, and Lori McKenna.

Distributed by Dualtone Records, the Better Angels takes flight on November 9.