Luke Francis - Saguaro



Though he grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco, and since his late teens called Washington state his home, on his debut solo album, Luke Francis takes the listener on an emotional travelogue across the vast American landscape. An introspective album that offsets bereft confessionalism with telling landscape pathways to catharsis. He’s so self-aware of his fixation on turning heartbreak into art that it’s the basis for the whole album’s concept. Most of the songs were written during a tour of America’s South-west in the wake of a painful dissolution of a romantic relationship. With opening track Must Be 54th Street as its thesis statement, this slow-burning breakup album draws on a myriad influences to eke out something fresh. Luke comes across as a complicated figure—luckily he’s unafraid to publicly work through his issues. It’s the vulnerability with which he shares his feelings that pulls the listener in. SAGUARO is layered, much like a painter using multiple strokes on a canvas. The result is not just a sense of depth but a work thats colours are more vibrant, drawing you in and demanding more than mere admiration. This is the type of record that could propel an artist as talented as Luke Francis in a million different directions. 

He is without doubt an exceptional songwriter with a fine, gentle voice. His stories of fragility, memory, and rudderlessness make for compelling listening. None more so than Nothing But An OceanDespite a somewhat breezy Southern California West Coast vibe, he delivers a sad indictment of loss and heartache, recalling early Dylan with his harmonica break. Full of sincerity, human presence, intensity—and perfect musical technicality, this is perfect for anyone who likes to get lost when they put a record on, who wants to be immersed. The dreamy arrangement of haunting pedal steel, moody percussion and ethereal harmonies create rich textures that allow Luke’s voice to float weightlessly on Tennessee Plates. Towards the end his harmonica sneaks in as this somewhat forlorn tune fades into the distance. He turns his loss and emotion into the fond memories of Halloween Again, chronicling the events of that memorable evening with courage, empathy and sensitivity. A weeping steel guitar courses through the song, as the words seem to whisper his innermost feelings, making the listener wonder how such a young man could speak with such openness.

He takes a slow, meandering trip through Tucson, a gorgeous, vivid picture of a romantic road trip, as a variety of guitar and percussive stabs play off of his singing, which veers toward the wistful. This emotional track is both gentle and steely, moving from intimate recollections to powerful post break-up despair in the blink of an eye. Indiana State Champion is just the most magical sad piano ballad you’ve ever heard. Other songs such as In The Flood and Michael Collins are rendered as slow ballads addressing a romance on the brink of dissolution. Overall, SAGUARO is a work of quiet beauty that brims with beguiling melodies and compelling storytelling. It is irresistibly intriguing as any rapid page-turner of a novel. It’s as if Luke Francis comes out of the relationship—and this album—stronger than when he went into it. His heartbreak isn’t gone, it’s harnessed.

May 2024