Jun '04[Home]

Other Arts: Music

David Francis's "Fake Valentine"

reviewed by Kevin Delaney

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Blessed with a gift for melodies that seem hauntingly familiar, yet impossible to pin down, David Francis mesmerized listeners on his eponymous debut album in 2001. With a low-fi DIY sound based around Francis's intricate, understated 12ing guitar and piano, the record featured deeply moving songs of loss and yearning countered with a musical and lyrical wit bordering on the surreal.

While the sparse arrangements of "David Francis'' hinted at a wider harmonic scope, "Fake Valentine," his new album, is a fully realized work. Francis, a transplanted Texan, recorded the album in a Manhattan studio with a cast of fine backing musicians, rounding out his vision with bass, drums, strings, tambura, and a few well-placed horns and woodwinds. Together they offer up a compelling blend of styles and mood twists on a record that still manages to flow seamlessly and coherently from start to finish.

Francis's pop instincts are impeccable, and songs like "Life Smiled," "Time of Day," and "They Both Agreed" show off his McCartneyesque tenor and incisive lyrics to great effect. Elsewhere, a surprising range of folk, rock and pop influences show up, with some Latin, jazz and ska rhythms to keep things moving. The influences may seem clear, but not one note is derivative. Think Nick Drake with flashes of humor, Burt Bacharach with a raw emotional edge or Arthur Lee with real chops, and you'll still only get a hint of what this album is like.

One of the high points of "Fake Valentine" is a hypnotic six-minute instrumental called "Song For a Party Never Held." Francis jumps between piano, Hammond, and chromatic harmonica as the piece alters its mood from deep, quiet sadness to high baroque drama. Along the way, a few moments of pure whimsy sneak in and the song winds strangely, but brilliantly, to a climax of jarring though distantly echoing horns. A listener is never sure what to expect next, but is emotionally pulled in throughout. Kind of like "Fake Valentine" as a whole.

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