John Francis
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John Francis

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States | SELF

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States | SELF
Band Americana Singer/Songwriter


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"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 - Here Comes the Flood

"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.
- Philadelphia Weekly

"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. - WXPN - The Key

"Philly prodigal son John Francis returns from Nashville for a performance at St. George’s United Methodist Church on 9/29"

After spending time in Nashville to pick up some country roots, Philadelphia native John Francis returns to the City of Brotherly Love Saturday, September 29th at Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church. His latest album, The Better Angels, is an Americana record heavy with themes of justice for the working class hero. Francis’ latest work can be seen on the Johnny Cash Music Festival, a special PBS/ DVD to be released in October. His collaboration with Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, Rosanne Cash, and Gary Morris, “No One Gets Out of Here Alive,” will also be on the DVD. Francis joined The Key December 2010 to perform tracks from The Better Angels for The Key Studio Sessions; below, download a performance of “The Way the Empire Fell” from that session. - WXPN - The Key

"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.

- Bruce Warren - Some Velvet Blog

"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. -

"This Link Contains Many Quotes"

"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."

Tara Murtha, PLAY Magazine

"With impassioned vocals and intelligent lyrics in the vein of Jeff Buckley, John Francis is set for success. His disturbing storybook lyrics of reality are reminiscent of Johnny Cash, but songwriting weaved with catchy hooks and other pop delicacies maintain an air of musical charm. His most recent release, Strong Wine and Spirits (2005), offers innovation and prophecy in the form of many melded genres - it's a gripping tale of a record, to be sure." Helen Leicht, WXPN Host

John's carefully crafted songwriting works so well with his mellow delivery. He's twice as talented as most performers. Gene Shay/WXPN Radio

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

"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". John Francis serves up 'Strong Wine & Spirits and I say make it a double." -Jonathan Takiff,

"Think Johnny Cash meets Jeff Buckley" -Appel Farm Festival Program

"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, President of Philadelphia Chapter of the Grammies

"Sharp pop style, intense folk/country sensibility" -Philadelphia Inquirer

"I started playing John Francis' song 'Mercy for Cities' - Intelligent lyrics and a voice that reminds me of Jeff Buckley." -Helen Leicht, Host,88.5 WXPN

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

""...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." -The Intelligencer, Naila Francis

"Inspired lyricist, John Francis shone with his elegant fluid voice, a trilling soprano that on "Trouble in These Times" soared like Antony" -A.D. Amarosi, Philadelphia Inquirer, Concert Review of World Cafe Live Show John Francis & Denison Witmer. 1/6/06

"...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." ----- -The Swinging Bridge Review of Concert in late November, 05

- multiple


The Philadelphia EP (2003)
Strong Wine & Spirits (2005)
The Better Angels (2010)



At 12, John Francis started writing, recording, and performing. Any stage would do, but mostly, Francis cut his teeth in the church, like many great performers. Son of ministers and musicians, Francis grew up with folk, rock, and gospel music at the center of his life. At 18, he enrolled as a Literature and World Religions major at Messiah College near Harrisburg, PA. There he immersed himself in the classics of poetry and prose, honing his craft as a songwriter. During these years, John played guitar for Gospel band on Sunday mornings. After graduating, Francis traveled to Ireland where the musical traditions of his family’s homeland added more fuel to the fire.

While living in Philadelphia, Francis released the critically acclaimed “Strong Wine & Spirits”. With the single “Heavy, Heavy Love”, the record garnered extensive radio play in the North East. Drawing on the deep waters of Rock n roll, Folk, Country, and Gospel music, Francis conjures the spirits of his eloquent brand of songwriting, and passionate live shows. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “Artful..brooding…intense.”

Francis was honored by ASCAP as the recipient two national lyricist awards. The prestigious Sammy Cahn Lyricist Award, for his song ”Love Came to Me Dressed in Red”. (Previous winners include John Mayer and Josh Ritter.) And recently he received the Jay Gorney Award for socially conscious lyrics for his poignant song, “Who?”

Francis has played in some of the most renown listening rooms and theaters in the U.S., Ireland, UK, Switzerland, and Germany. He has played upon invitation for the United Nations in New York. In August of 2011, Francis performed for the inaugural “Johnny Cash Music Festival” in Jonesboro, Arkansas at the ASU Arena, alongside Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, and Tommy Cash.

He has also shared the stage with Ray Lamontagne, Jeff Tweedy, Amos Lee, Buffy Sainte-Marie, M.Ward, Josh Ritter, Suzanne Vega, Rachael Yamagata, Rickie Lee Jones, Andrew Bird, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Peggy Seeger, Tom Paxton, the Hooters, and festivals with Steve Earle, Judy Collins, Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright, Mavis Staples, and Arlo Guthrie.

John Francis now makes his home (when not touring 200+ days per year) in Music City…Nashville, Tennessee. In Nashville, he recorded his newest release ‘the Better Angels’ in the Cash Cabin Studio. Produced by John Carter Cash in the fabled home studio of his parents Johnny and June.

‘The Better Angels’ was released Nov.9, 2010 through the Dualtone Music Group. It was “Most Added” to AMA Radio 3 weeks running, and climbed to #18 on the Americana Charts. Featuring legendary musicians: Kenny Vaughan (Lucinda Williams, Marty Stuart), Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco), Michael Rhodes (Sheryl Crowe, J.J. Cale), Robbie Turner (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson) and featuring Rachael Yamagata with a vocal appearance, ‘the Better Angels’ is a musical achievement. The record features the single ”Johnny Cash on the Radio” and the two songs for which Francis received national songwriting awards.

Like his songs, Francis is rooted in the real, vulnerable, and gritty stories of human experiences, his own and those he encounters. And as he tours and travels, he’s collected stories of others, and built his own story on that great “ribbon of highway”.

Inside the soaring vibrato-laden tenor and the catchy rock / folk melodies, you can feel the pain, the redemption, the sorrow, and the transcendence in the voice of a young man who is, as Shane Claiborne puts its, “…a poet and a troubadour; a provocateur of dreams and an instigator of movements. Most of all, he is a friend. He is a friend of mine, but he is also a friend of many down-and-out people the world has stepped on, pushed aside, and tried to ignore. His voice becomes much bigger than his own, and his stories tell the stories of injustice and freedom that are thousands of years old. Listen, and be inspired to do something daring with your life.”

"I started playing John Francis' song 'Mercy for Cities' - Intelligent lyrics and a voice that reminds me of Jeff Buckley." -Helen Leicht, 88.5 WXPN

John Francis has shared the stage with Suzanne Vega, Rickie Lee Jones, Andrew Bird, Ray Lamontagne, Amos Lee, M. Ward, Juana Molina, Peggy Seeger, James McMurtry, Missy Higgins, Ollabelle, Pedro the Lion, Denison Witmer, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Dayna Kurtz, Kelley McRae, Amy Correia, Sonya Kitchell, Mark Geary, Phil Roy, Peter Mulvey, Kris Delmhorst, Freedy Johnston, Jeffrey Gaines, the Hooters, and festivals with Jeff Tweedy, Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright, Mavis Staples, and Arlo Guthrie. In 2005/06, Francis appeared at SXSW, Philadelphia Folk Fest, XPN All About the Music Festival, and Appel Farm Festival.

"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,