Kevin Orton

photo: Everett B. Wilson 1961

Review of Always/Far by Kevin Orton (December 2010):

If you’ve stumbled across David Francis’ music (his eponymous 2001 debut or 2003’s Fake Valentine ) you could draw comparisons for days & never quite nail down his sound. Without a doubt, Beatlesque hooks abound, along with the spare, after-hours, bed-sit ruminations that frequent the likes of Leonard Cohen or Elliott Smith. All guided by Francis’ haunting, lonesome ghost of a voice that eludes any such comparisons.

For the acquainted, Francis seems to speak for the quiet outsider. People who survived some unspoken trauma or loss but at the expense of company they’d reluctantly wished they hadn’t had to leave behind.

It’s been seven years since we last heard a proper “album” in the traditional sense, his last being 2007’s spoken word/chamber music piece, the self-explanatory Poems. So it should come as no surprise that Francis’ latest, Always/Far is a book of poems.

Well, sort of…

One thing Francis has never included on any of his albums is the customary lyric booklet. Consisting of original drawings and lyrics culled from his first two albums, I suppose one could say Always/Far makes up for any such omission. But at second glance, there’s more than a “better late than never” libretto conceit at work here.

Presented in a hand-crafted, deliberate “chapbook” style by the Oilcan Press, Always/Far looks like something one would find browsing the poetry section in Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore circa 1969. But thumb through the pages & it’s like picking up someone’s intimate notebook. The one accidentally left behind on a café table by that stranger who briefly caught, and then all too suddenly vacated the corner of your eye.

The type-face brings a battered Olivetti to mind, 3 a.m. reflections typed with two fingers on motel stationery, old bills, unsolicited mail & on the backsides of random xeroxes.

If the printed words stare out blankly, Francis’ sketches and portraits flesh out the emotion in between the lines. Glowering faces, skeletal cityscapes and some images that reach beyond the average doodle provide an atmospheric backdrop for streets “where you don’t walk on.”

And yet the words truly speak volumes, in simplicity that downplays the inevitable sucker-punch of emotional complexity.

Behind it all, there’s a fractured narrative to be found. Of looking back from a distance to a shattered relationship once more, before quietly closing the door & moving on.

Without a doubt, Always/Far is a visual accompaniment to Francis’ songs, intimate, haunting and moving. There in plain black & white for those seeking “passion instead of fashion” (from “Wait A While With Me”).