John Lane

photo: Everett B. Wilson 1961

Review of Fake Valentine in “Ear Candy” (December 2004) by
John Lane:

At first blush, David Francis’ most recent offering Fake Valentine appears to be a grim, daunting work to wrap your arms around. On the sleeve, a pensive Francis stares up at us in almost gothic repose, amidst a garden setting. “What is this creature?” a first-time listener might be compelled to ask, feeling a little intimidated. And to answer, it is a direct work, while also a study in contrasts, which David Francis offers up with smooth élan.

Much has been made of Francis’ vocal similarities to one Sir Paul McCartney, which is fair enough and it is quite a draw for this listener. But oh my, unlike McCartney, Francis has set out to challenge himself and the listener with the opening track, “Fake Valentine” – are we willing to accept a paradoxical theme? Can we take another ballad about a broken-hearted lover? With Francis at the helm, the answer is resoundingly affirmative. There’s a very personal feel to this disc – while string work might be a bold adornment, the acoustic guitar work by Francis is the deep glue that holds everything together. In other words, if one were to strip away any of the embellishments, the trueness of the songs would still remain perfectly cohesive; that’s the sign of a true musician.

Francis is not afraid of playing the field stylistically. An eerie Peruvian-sounding woodwind opening graces the song “Life Smiled,” which gives way to a jaunty, piano-driven trip replete with harmonies that melt. And I must add that if there ever was a singer who deserved (and whom we needed) to be on FM radio, it’s Francis because melody is absolutely king.

From the subtle bite of “Vilma’s Lighter,” where a simple electric guitar generates a guiding nerve of bitterness complementing Francis’ plaintive voice (which becomes increasingly distressed at turns), to the valedictory, thumping last-hurrah of the closing track “Far” (which defies expectations), Fake Valentine proves itself to be the work of a skilled artist. Where in lesser hands, the exercise of writing 11 variations on a theme might have turned into an artless bile-fest, David Francis goes about the work with a whole range of emotions – which is really a better representation of the human spirit. I know nothing of David Francis’ personal life, but if this album represents the fruits of a relationship gone wrong, then there is something to be said for adversity yielding great art. Nonetheless, given Francis’ overwhelming vocal and instrumental talents, I would love to see how he handles a more sunshine-y project!