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One By One

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Album Review

With cover art that mimics Bob Dylan's The Times They Are a-Changin' right down to the typeface, One by One demands (and, perhaps, deserves) to become a staple of the modern-day folk catalog. Nineteen-year-old Robert Francis is already impressively self-sufficient, playing nearly ever instrument — from guitar to glockenspiel — on this self-produced debut. It would be an understatement to say that Francis' musicianship belies his young age, as some of One's best songs already harbor the rustic, world-weary quality that many artists spend their careers cultivating. Whether or not Francis has actually experienced the pastoral blues that color his lyrics is beyond the point; his dusty baritone and heartland imagery make the potential fib worthwhile. From the right-handed piano twinkles of opener "Mama Don't Come" to the gorgeously hypnotic, looping closer, there's an airy sense of space to these ten songs. Even the album's most ornate material — the seven-minute title track, perhaps, with its climax of co-ed vocals and sweeping violin — is allotted enough room to breathe. When the orchestration becomes lush, Francis usually swoops in with a musical reprieve, be it a momentary break in a riff's rhythm or a touch of reverb to widen the sound. Even more interesting is his love for subtle, esoteric flourishes: a dog barking in the middle of "The Devil's Mountains," right before the bluesy pedal steel gives way to mariachi horns; delayed violin in verse two of "Little Girl"; the church-like harmonies in "Dakota." It's impressive proof that Francis' self-appointment as producer isn't the result of some youthful ego trip, but rather the most logical choice for a penny-pinched teenager — or, for that matter, anyone whose music mirrors these rustic folk-pop strains. Dylan it ain't, but One by One is one solid debut.


Born: 25 September 1987 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Raised in Los Angeles as the youngest member of a music-filled household, indie folk singer/songwriter Robert Francis benefited from a diverse musical climate thanks to his pianist/producer father, his songwriting sister Juliette Commagere, and his Mexican mother, who sang native ranchera songs around the house. Family friend and acclaimed stringmaster Ry Cooder gave Francis his first guitar at age nine; seven years later, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante accepted Francis as his only guitar...
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One By One, Robert Francis
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