When Robert Francis took to the stage of the Lyric Theatre last week to preview his forthcoming LP Empire Blues, his fans did not know what to expect. Empire Blues, Francis’s fifth studio LP, is the first to stray from the signature Americana style for which he is known, and is much more experimental than Francis’s previous albums. You can still hear nods to his roots, but he uses tracks and synth to create a fresh and modern sound.
Francis was joined by a strong backing band comprised of Kyle McCammon and Ian Sloane on both bass and keyboards, and Aaron Steele on drums. The band played flawlessly together even though Francis joked that they only had one rehearsal, and after performing handful of tracks off the new album, they left Francis to perform one last song by himself.
The Lyric Theatre is a creative space that is utilized for comedy shows as well as musical performances. It is minimalistic and intimate, which makes it a good venue to debut new material. Francis’s music, up until this point, had fallen into the category of Americana/Folk, characterized by his silky baritone vocals and ambitious guitar solos. His poetic writing style mostly recounted stories of romance or lost love. In one of his older tracks, “Little Girl,” he lifted a verse from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, modified it, and used it as a song lyric. A Shakespeare novice may not even notice, since it fits so well with the tone of the rest of his original lyrics. Empire Blues, in contrast, is a dramatic departure from this style of music, although interestingly, Francis maintains a similar lyrical style and bluesy guitar tone.
Fans were intrigued by Francis’s new style of music. One new track, “Inside Your Heart,” particularly captivated the audience with its hypnotic melody. The musicality of each song was demanding and the players fed off of each other’s energy. The band’s set finished strong with a song called “Shelter 85,” which was reminiscent of Francis’s older material. He then transitioned into a solo rendition of his song “Mescaline,” which was requested by the crowd. The song was carried by his crisp vocals and the room was completely silent as he quietly strummed along.
Proving that he is capable of transcending the brand he created for himself as an Americana singer-songwriter, Robert Francis may be just beginning to reinvent his image. For up to date information on upcoming shows, follow Robert Francis on Instagram @robertfrancismusic or on Facebook at facebook.com/robertfrancisofficial." target="_blank">facebook.com/robertfrancisofficial.