Robert Francis

Before Nightfall

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Before Nightfall is a different animal than Robert Francis' debut, whose rich production and pastoral songwriting took the songwriter an entire year to complete. Nowhere is that difference more pronounced than on "One by One," a nostalgic track that makes an appearance on both albums in radically different versions. As presented here, it's a straight-and-sober ode to lost love, stripped of the piano arpeggios and violin that lent a folksy elegance to the original arrangement. Returning listeners may find themselves wondering what happened to Francis' luxuriant take on Americana, which once included everything from ambient animal noises to mariachi horns. Recorded in a matter of days, Before Nightfall does away with those accoutrements, devoting more focus to the songs' core than the different ways those songs can be ornamented. Robert Francis keeps the studio sparsely populated this time around, occasionally enlisting help from family members (sisters Carla and Juliette Commagere, both of whom sing backup) and family friends (Ry Cooder, who plays slide guitar on "Climb a Mountain") but largely sticking with a simple four-piece band. The result is a grounded, no-frills album, sometimes sweeping in scope -- the falsetto-filled choruses of "Junebug" and "Keep on Running" are wonderful -- but always reminiscent of a live recording.

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