Neal Francis – In Plain Sight (ATO Records)
Channeling everyone from Harry Nilsson to Dr. John, Neal Francis’ sophomore effort – the dreamy, creatively experimental In Plain Sight – draws on everything from Greek mythology to broken hearts for inspiration. And the result is almost always eclectically sublime.
The piano-heavy album continues the trajectory of his 2019 debut Changes, a solid evolution of modern R&B, with ’70 style choruses and an almost dream-like mix of swirling synth and guitars scattered throughout. The record opens on “Alameda Apartments,” the strongest track here, about moving on after a breakup, telling a very specific character -driven tale but one that is certainly relatable to just about anyone. The next song, “Problems,” carries a strong ‘70s vibe and elsewhere, Derek Trucks offers slide guitar to “Can’t Stop the Rain,” a solid mix of New Orleans-style funk and Francis’ laidback delivery. The record closes on the trippy “Say Your Prayers.”
In Plain Sight was written and recorded almost entirely in a church, St. Peter’s UCC. Oddly Francis admits to not being religious but took a music-ministry job at the Chicago church in 2017. After a breakup, he asked the folks running St. Peter’s if he could move in there. “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,” Francis says.
The result is In Plain Sight, and while not exactly a concept album there are certainly themes that run through the track list tying the songs together. The album is a sound of Francis dealing with a slew of changes and trying to make sense of what’s next. And even though the pandemic was not central to his songwriting, the feelings of uncertainty expressed throughout this record resonate strongly with what many of us have been through the past year and a half.
Find Neal Francis’ tour dates and more, here: https://www.nealfrancis.com/
Neal Francis: Keyboards & Vocals
Kellen Boersma: Guitar
Mike Starr: Bass
Collin O’Brien: Drums
Slide guitar by Derek Trucks & acoustic guitar by Mike Novak on “Can’t Stop The Rain. Background vocals by Carlile, Allie Bradford, Tramaine Parker & Brandon Lampkin on “Problems.” Background vocals by Allie Bradford, Tramaine Parker, & Brandon Lampkin on “Say Your Prayers.” Background vocals by Carlile and percussion by Bob Garrett on “BNYLV.”