The writing process for new music always varies from artist to artist. Some, like Springsteen, can spend days locked inside a studio perfecting snare beats. Others, like Chicago native Neal Francis, can find themselves living inside a church for a year, immersed in “Well Tempered Clavier”. I guess you could say, when creating his sophomore album In Plain Sight, Francis went ‘Bach’ to the basics. “For this record, I had an 8-track tape machine that my guitarist had left at the church. He had an extra one. That’s just the kinda guy he is. So, we spent a lot of time learning how to use it and then we built a little studio around it,” says Francis.
The album immediately starts off with three songs that scratch the surface of the gloomier and more personal aspects of his psyche and life.
“Alameda Apartments” — the first of these songs — sonically dives into it, with some funky guitar riffs and stellar piano work which prompts the listener to start moving their bodies. However, despite its upbeat tempo, it’s lyrically steeped in pain and heartbreak as Francis laments “as hard as I tried to keep the old place // She just wouldn’t let me stay”. On “Problems”, he sings about change and being open to new relationships, yet just can’t seem to get his heart to feel 100% about his new prospects. Finally, on “Can’t Stop The Rain”, he remarks that despite wanting to, he just can’t avoid certain feelings and emotions. “I can’t stand the truth // You knew me all along // I can’t hide from you girl, cause you’re in every song”… a message relatable to most of us, that no matter how much we can enjoy a sunny day, we cannot stop the rain.
“Prometheus”, in my opinion, is the best song on the album. According to Francis, it’s one of his proudest moments on In Plain Sight. Its roots are based on the Greek myth of Prometheus, but came to him after watching the film The Lighthouse. “It’s the one song on the album that wasn’t directly related to anything in my life — a song I wrote completely outside of myself.” The album hits a quicker pace for the following track, “Sentimental Garbage”, and then drops off into the ethereal and psychedelic “Asleep”: a sad, yet poignant song about longing for someone you can’t be with anymore. “Asleep in the arms of another // Dreaming that we were still lovers.”
The album comes to a close with “Say Your Prayers”; it’s a fitting and groovy way to end an album created in a church. I found this album to be danceable, yet fill songs that tug on your heartstrings in a profoundly relatable way. A truly unique musical talent, Francis continues his ascent to rock stardom on an album that has no skippable tracks. If you are a fan of smooth vocals, funky piano and trippy guitar riffs, I highly recommend this splendid release from Neal Francis.
Purchase or stream ‘In Plain Sight’ album:
- Alameda Apartments
- Can’t Stop The Rain
- Sentimental Garbage
- Say Your Prayers
Neal Francis – “Can’t Stop The Rain” official video
Cover photo by Liina Raud
Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.