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Neal Francis | Changes

The Chicago singer-pianist channels some southern masters on his debut album.

WHO IS HE? A 30-year-old Chicago singer-pianist whose impressive musical resume includes a stint fronting instrumental funk band The Heard, sideman work with Muddy Waters’ son and other prominent blues artists — but whose personal history includes a long, near-fatal battle with addiction that bottomed out after an alcohol-induced seizure that left him with a broken femur and a dislocated arm.

WHAT IS THIS? His remarkable first solo album, recorded in L.A. with some of his former bandmates.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Believe it or not, like someone who’s spent a lifetime listening, loving and learning from Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, The Meters and other soulful southerners. From the bayou grooves and brassy horns to the sizzling guitars and funky keyboard lines, Francis pays homage to his influences while personalizing the proceedings with confessional lyrics about his personal struggle.


HOW SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? On a playlist with any or all of the artists above.

WHAT 10 WORDS DESCRIBE IT? Swampy, authentic, warm, revealing, respectful, wistful, slinky, dusky, flowing, mellow.

WHAT ARE THE BEST SONGS? From the headnodding starter This Time to the shuffling closer Put It In His Hands, every one of these eight tracks is a winner. The only downside: The whole disc lasts just 36 minutes.

WHAT WILL MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY SAY? ‘Do you really expect me to believe that this is a white kid from Chicago?’

HOW OFTEN WILL I LISTEN TO THIS? While it certainly won’t replace The Night Tripper or the Nevilles in your collection, it is perfectly timed to help fill the void left by the recent deaths of several NOLA icons.

IF THIS ALBUM WERE JEWELRY, WHAT KIND OF JEWELRY WOULD IT BE? A string of beads tossed from a Mardi Gras float.

SHOULD I BUY, STREAM OR STEAL IT? It’s worth parting with some of your spare change.