On May 22nd Robert Francis will release his Vanguard Records Debut Strangers in the First Place, which is a dazzling collection of backroads-style folk songs that took about a year and a half to make. He asked PopMatters to premiere the acoustic live-take video for the closing track off of that album, “Dangerous Neighborhood”. He also offered an interview to shine some light on the record, the song, and his past. After a short talk it became painfully obvious that Francis was born into the world of music.
Talking about growing up with music as a young child Francis frequently spoke out about his mentor at a very early age and most prominent influence, Ry Cooder. “It was always extremely important to learn things firsthand from Ry, whose teacher was Robert Garry Davis. Ry would talk about paying Robert Gary Davis 10 cents to just sit in a room with him and watch him play guitar. Which is the same kind of thing I’ve had the honor of doing with Ry. He really taught me a lot about music and a lot about soul and how important the song is. I really tried to translate that.”
Although Francis didn’t always think about becoming a songwriter, mostly focusing on playing guitar while being taught by such legends as Chaka Khan. Like many, he hit his turnaround point in wanting to write songs after being influenced by his first young love as a teenager. Francis also spoke out about frequent partying trying to “keep up with guys like Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle as far as drinking goes”, and then in greater detail, “just staying up every night, drinking three bottles of whiskey a day” which led to a night where Francis passed out in house, doors open, lights on. When he awoke he picked up an acoustic guitar and strummed out his first song. It was “Little Girl” off of his first record, One by One.
As far as “Dangerous Neighborhood” is concerned, the version present here is the song stripped to a naked core, while on the record it’s presented as a sweeping epic, with a full instrument palette, with Ry Cooder playing along somewhere in the mix. Which is fitting for a song about moving forward and not being trapped by your past, which serves as a fitting end-cap.
Robert Francis will be releasing Strangers in the First Place on May 22, touring Europe in June and then headlining a tour in the US shortly after his return. Until then, enjoy this beautiful take of a wonderful song.