David Francis: Sings Songs of the Twenties

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David Francis

Sings Songs of the Twenties

Chelsea Tables + Stage, NYC, July 28, 2023

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

David Francis
Photo: Daniel Sheehan

West coast-based David Francis made his New York City debut at the comfortable Chelsea Tables + Stage with a program of songs from the 1920s. The singer possessed a smooth, strong voice, a vocal style in the tradition of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and had a charming and slightly flirtatious manner. He clearly enjoyed being in front of an audience and casually interacted with it. However, he had a problem in revealing himself which marks the difference between a saloon singer and a cabaret performer, at least in the Big Apple style.

Among the well-chosen songs were the lesser known “If I Could Be with You (One Hour Tonight” (Henry Creamer/James P. Johnson), which made for a dandy opening, and the absolute standards (the Gershwins’ “Somebody Loves Me” and “’S Wonderful”). There were even some surprises, such as “Sweet Georgia Brown,” which led Francis to reveal one of the few personal tidbits he shared during the evening: he played basketball in high school. In the Hoagy Carmichael classic “Rockin’ Chair” he connected to the song in a way he didn’t with much of his material, which was performed rather superficially without a great deal of interpretation. In his patter, he did concentrate on previous singers whose renditions he appreciated: Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Mildred Bailey, the only one with ties to the 1920s he mentioned during the evening.

He was backed musically by the talented trio of Mark Cross on piano, Jeff Potter on drums, and Yosi Waki on bass. Each one was given a chance to shine with solos during such numbers as “Mean to Me” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” Francis also brought on two very talented guest stars. Eric Hu is a tremendous young saxophonist who delivered a terrific version of “Blue Skies.” Sarah Shea, a charming jazz vocalist, duetted with Francis on such varied numbers as “Lover Come Back to Me” and “Honeysuckle Rose and on an intricate mash up of “Let’s Do It” and “Tea for Two.” Not only did she succeed but she also brought out more emotional engagement from Francis.

This singer has all the equipment to become a popular performer on the New York cabaret scene: he’s got a fine voice and an obvious commitment to his material. What was lacking was a shape to evening; the songs seemed to come with no rhyme or reason nor was it ever explained why he chose to highlight the works of the 1920s. It will be interesting to see how he moves forward when he next returns.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."