Cris Jacobs & Neal Francis
Thu May 27
Outside

Cris Jacobs & Neal Francis

DATE: Thursday, May 27, 2021
DOORS: 5:00 PM
STARTS: 7:00 PM
Live on the Outdoor Stage
Genre: Americana Soul
Age Limit: Must be 21 or Older
Rain or Shine; No Refunds
Price: $25 per person; tickets sold in pods only!
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About Cris Jacobs:

When Cris Jacobs began dreaming about a follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2016 album Dust to Gold, he realized early on he’d have to do things differently this time around. His life had changed drastically since writing those songs: he’d toured extensively and attracted a legion of new, devoted fans; he’d come off the road into a world, with its divisive rhetoric and troubling headlines, he no longer recognized; and, most importantly, he’d gotten married and had his first child. Things had changed, and Jacobs had, too.

Color Where You Are is the work of an artist at an exciting new stage in his life and career, ready to use his talents to share a little beauty with the loved ones and fans who have already given so much to him. The title nods to Jacobs’ experience writing the album, which, as he puts it, he had to do “between tours, coming home, changing diapers, fixing things around the house…. You name it.” He no longer had the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike, so he colored where he was.

“It was a new discipline for me and a new level of focus that I think brought out the best work,” he explains. “I feel like I grew up a little bit. There are people in my life who I truly care about and things in the world I feel deeply about. That really pushed me in a stronger direction and forced me to feel things on an honest level.”

Opening track “Painted Roads,” with its soulful groove and clever arrangement, is the perfect encapsulation of just how far Jacobs has come since releasing Dust to Gold. Jacobs is self-assured and confident in his soulful, infectious vocal, while his lyrical craftsmanship shows Jacobs to be a thoughtful songwriter who continuously strives to grow and evolve.

“It’s about choosing to live in the present, and see the everyday details of the world, rather than postponing living or paying attention in hopes of some distant prize or destination,” Jacobs says of “Painted Roads.” “We get so caught up in ‘success’ and ambition, and are so goal-oriented, that we sometimes lose sight of the beauty in the everyday. ‘Color where you are’ is the notion of creating beauty now, no matter the circumstance.”

“Painted Roads” was one of the first songs Jacobs and the band (who co-produced the album together) recorded for Color Where You Are, with his band mates taking Jacobs’ original Tom Petty-inspired arrangement and giving it an off-kilter, syncopated groove. For the first time, Jacobs wrote the bulk of the album’s songs in the studio, camping out at Richmond’s Montrose Studios to flesh out “germs and ideas that had been floating around” with band members Todd Herrington (bass), Dusty Ray Simmons (drums/percussion) and Jonathan Sloane (guitar).

“I booked the studio time and put a gun to my head and that sometimes works,” Jacobs says. “In this case it did. It feels like a specific time period and specific vibe and emotional space that came through in all of these songs. It was a really organic process.”

While life as a family man changed Jacobs’ perspective (and schedule), current events also had a profound impact on Jacobs’ songwriting, with commentary on social and political issues finding its way into tracks like “Afterglow” and “Under the Big Top.” Color Where You Are is a hopeful affair, though, with Jacobs employing thoughtful criticism and messages of empowerment instead of wallowing or ruminating.

“The political climate is causing a different sort of energy and angst in me that’s never been there before,” he explains. “It’s not a political album by any means, but those forces out there certainly dictated a lot of the writing on this record.”

On “Afterglow,” Jacobs searches for optimism and healing in trying times. His emotional vocal is buoyed by a passionate, swelling performance from the band, making the track one of Color Where You Are’s most poignant moments. “It’s about the hope that after the storm we are currently trying to survive in, we will see true light like never before,” Jacobs says. “That the constant threats to our foundations will cause us to examine and strengthen them, and come out the other side with stronger hearts and clearer vision. ‘There will come horses, there will come voices’ — that we will be forced to show our true hand like never before because of our dire need to defend it.”

Elsewhere, on “Under the Big Top,” Jacobs channels swampy, gritty rock influences to shine a light on narrow-mindedness and lazy thinking. Crunchy riffs and a fat bass groove make the track, despite its heady message, one of the album’s many songs you can’t help but move to.

“‘Under the Big Top’ is commentary on society’s evolution into gullible, easily distracted, lazy-mindedness,” Jacobs says. “’Pretty lights junkie like a moth to candle,’ always distracted by the brightest, loudest, biggest, rather than remembering how to seek for ourselves and find truth and love. We instead over-consume and are given every opportunity to do so. What we end up with is a circus of sorts, with tricksters and hucksters and loud mouths with no real value taking up all of our attention and ruling us, because we are too easily manipulated.”

Grooves abound on Color Where You Are, as on standout track “Rooster Coop,” which finds Jacobs and the band sniffing around the henhouse over greasy slide guitar, a deep, deep pocket and a truly funky bass line. “All I knew was that I wanted to write a song that merged country and funk,” Jacobs says of “Roostr Coop.” “We started out with the main groove of the tune and the first line that popped into my head was, ‘There’s something funky in the barnyard.’ So naturally, I wrote a song about a scandalous love tryst amongst farm animals.”

Spanning rock, folk, soul and funk and drawing from inspiration that runs the gamut from the henhouse to the White House, Color Where You Are is a kaleidoscopic portrait of Cris Jacobs as a songwriter, musician and bandleader. It’s the work of a devoted father and an empathetic member of the human race. More than that, it’s a reminder that there’s beauty to be found everywhere, if you just take a moment to color where you are.

“What am I trying to do with my music?” Jacobs muses.  “The simple answer is this: I’m trying to connect with people. To express real-life human emotions and make people feel things. To connect my love of music with my love of writing and conjure up all of the joy and emotions that those things bring to me. To hopefully have people walk away feeling lighter or happier or more inspired to go do something after listening… I want to create a body of work that my family will be proud of one day, and to show that I had compassion to the human condition and wasn’t just a self-indulgent show off.”

Listen to Cris Jacobs:

About Neal Francis:

“I just wanted to be honest about everything, from my musical influences to my story,” muses Neal Francis. After years of dishonest living—consumed by drugs, alcohol, and addiction—such sincerity is jarring from the 30-year-old Chicago-based musician. Liberated from a self-destructive past and born anew in sobriety, Francis has captured an inspired collection of songs steeped in New Orleans rhythms, Chicago blues, and early 70s rock n’ roll. His music evokes a bygone era of R&B’s heyday while simultaneously forging a new path on the musical landscape. Ohio-based Karma Chief Records (a subsidiary of rising soul label Colemine Records) released two songs, “These Are The Days” and “Changes, Pt. 1,” in early 2019 and will follow with the full LP Changes on September 20, 2019.

There is a deep connection between Francis’s childhood—his obsession with boogie woogie piano, his father’s gift of a dusty Dr. John LP—and the songs he’s created. The result is an astonishing collection of material without parallel in the contemporary funk and soul scene. The influences are unmistakable: the vocal stylings of Allen Toussaint and Leon Russell; the second line rhythms of The Meters and Dr. John; the barroom rock ‘n’ roll of The Rolling Stones; the gospel soul of Billy Preston; the roots music of The Band. Francis pays tribute to the masters but has his own story to tell: “It’s the life I’ve lived so far.”

And what a life it’s been. Born Neal Francis O’Hara, the piano prodigy found himself touring Europe by the age of 18 with Muddy Waters’ son and backing up other prominent blues artists coast-to-coast. In 2012, Francis joined popular instrumental funk band The Heard. With Francis at the creative helm, The Heard transformed into a national act, touring with boogaloo progenitors The New Mastersounds and chart toppers The Revivalists and appearing at Jazz Fest and Bear Creek. As The Heard’s star rose, however, Francis sunk deeper into addiction. Once a promising sideman, by 2015 he had been fired from his band, evicted from his apartment, and was perilously close to self-destruction. “When you get close to death like that you can feel it,” Francis recalls. An alcohol-induced seizure that year led to a broken femur, dislocated arm, and, finally, the realization that he needed to get clean.

The journey from a hospital bed to launching his solo career was neither predictable nor straightforward. There were musical fits and starts, relapses, and broken relationships. Yet the overwhelming passion driving Francis in this second act has been an abundance of creative energy. “Drinking held my music in a half-cocked slingshot. I was always so consumed by drugs and alcohol that I didn’t have the time, money, or creative energy to do it. Sobriety let it loose.” 

Determined to realize the songs swirling in his head, Francis assembled a crack team of musicians, calling on bassist Mike Starr (The Heard) and drummer PJ Howard (The Revivalists, The Heard). He linked up with producer and analog-obsessive Sergio Rios (Orgone, Cee Lo Green, Alicia Keys) and self-funded a trip to Killion Sound in Los Angeles to record the initial batch of material. “I learned to trust my instincts in that room,” says Francis. Buoyed by classic horn arrangements and Rios’ fierce guitar work, the resulting tracks illuminate a lifetime spent studying the masters of rock and soul music. 

From the RMI electra-piano riff that kicks off “She’s A Winner” to the screaming organ swells of “This Time,” Francis and company let it all hang out. This is fun music, dance music. Yet verse after verse and chorus after chorus, Francis wrestles with his past in a straightforward manner: “It’s 5 o’clock in the morning, but I’m not home/ I’m surrounded by people, but I’m really alone.” Like Toussaint and Russell before him he’s married the upbeat rhythms of New Orleans R&B with the lyrical approach of a confessional singer/songwriter. The refrain on “This Time” serves as a foxhole prayer for a better future:  “Let me get it this time/I won’t let you down/Let me get it this time/I won’t fool around.”

Francis finished recording basic tracks for Changes in Los Angeles in February of 2018 and spent the following months doing overdubs in Chicago with engineer Mike Novak (who also recorded demos for the project). Soon after he was eager to begin his touring career. After signing with Paradigm Talent Agency, Neal played shows across North American supporting Australian band The Cat Empire. He has received praise on several notable radio outlets including KEXP, KCRW’s The Morning Becomes Eclectic, and BBC Radio 6. Francis and his four-piece band recently performed during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, sharing the stage with The Meters and other legends. This summer he performed at Summer Camp and Chicago’s Chi-Soul Festival, and hit the road with Lee Fields & The Expressions, Dumpstaphunk and others. Francis pledges to tour relentlessly to promote his own music. “I’m doing this to fulfill a drive within myself, but also to pay tribute to the gifts I’ve been given. And it comes from a place of immense gratitude.”

Listen to Neal Francis: