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One By One

Robert Francis

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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.

Customer Reviews

For Immediate Release

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. ---Andrew Leahey, AMG The L.A.-native, instead, subscribes to a brand of folk more in line with that of Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and M. Ward, whose bright, gravely baritone Francis' most noticeably parallels. An incredibly gifted musician, who counts the drums, banjo, bass, piano, mandolin and guitar all as weapons of choice, he focuses more on traversing the minutiae of day-to-day life than on trying to change the world. Heartbreak finds its way into the bulk of the songs, but it's never precious to the point of nausea, which can't be said for most artists his age. As first efforts go, there's not much more you can ask for. Keep an eye on this kid. --- Kevin Kampwirth, CMJ Music Review The emotion he conveys while singing resembles that of a hardened performer who has been on the scene for decades, paying his dues in grimy bars where no one cared what he played. His songs are both depressing and uplifting. In my little world, that's better than perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I've listened to this record at least 10 times over the past two days. --- Marc Vera, Entertainment Weekly Usually, artists that bowl me over so easily are very few and far between, but today I have another soon-to-be star in Robert Francis. I first heard of the guy a few weeks ago when I was sent some samples of his work and, while I was instantly impressed with his sound, I was blown away by the fact that at 19 he produced his debut, One By One, and played just about every instrument imaginable in the process. If you've been looking for a reason to love singer/songwriters again, Robert is it. --- John Laird, Side One: Track One

bigman mode

robert francis brings to the table a raw, haunted outlook on lost love and heartbreak in his debut album. his music cuts deep, often to the vein, as he reveals to his audience the desperation of young man lost in turmoil, regret, and at last, redemption. beautiful.

sweet sweetness

beautiful and sweet while somehow managing to not be at all cheesy. love for me and all of my trains really stand out. a pretty amazing debut for a kid that's only nineteen.

Biography

Born: September 25, 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...
Full Bio