It seems like everyday there's another new band, singer, or musician releasing a disc of music that's pretty much indiscernible from the rest of what you hear. No matter what genre or category their music falls into, most everybody you listen to seem to be adhering to the principal that originality is bad and sounding like everybody else as much as possible is good.
When classical musicians play a piece that everybody has heard, "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven for example, and countless others have played, they, at least, attempt to make their performance unique from others through the strength of their personality and their own individual style of performance. In pop music it seems the opposite prevails as more and more everybody tries to sound like last year's hit.
Coming across a performer who attempts to place their own stamp on the music they're playing is like stumbling across an oasis in the desert. Listening to a musician who not only imprints his or her music with personal touches, but has also dared to fiddle with excepted formulae to creates something original has become such an oddity that when we do come across them, they are definitely worth celebrating.
That was the case when I first heard Francis Jocky a couple of years ago when he released Mr. Pain his first CD. At the time, I remember being blown away by his passion and the emotional honesty of his music, both of which have become conspicuous by their absence in popular music these days. So when I was offered a copy of his new EP, Sanctified, being released in the next couple of weeks by KoKo Records, I was genuinely interested in seeing what he was doing now. It's been two years since his last release and he's now based in New York instead of Paris France, and I wondered what effect the intervening years and the change in geography would have had on his music.
The answer to that is none at all, as he hasn't lost any of the qualities that I admired in the first place, and tons, because there is much more to his music now then there was before. Where on Mr. Pain Jocky seemed content to confine himself to R&B, and pop influenced soul music, on Sanctified he has spread his wings (Sorry, not a deliberate pun on the cover art). There are only six songs on this EP, and while two of them, "Ghost" and "Everything" were along the lines of the material found on his first release, it felt like he was trying something new with his music.
You could hear it in the aggressive, almost hard edge of the opening track "You Feel The Heat", the hint of a reggae back beat in "Meant To Last", and the way the sound of the last two tracks, "Your Way" and "Sanctified" appears to fill the room without being loud or over produced. On the first release, in comparison to this, it now feels like he was restraining himself, almost like he was letting himself be confined by the needs of the genre he was performing. Somewhere, somehow, in the last two years, he seems to have found the key to balancing the need for sounding professional and polished with the needs of his heart to express itself as fully and completely as possible.
Instead of holding back on his vocals to take advantage of the natural smoothness that was on display on Mr. Pain, he now lets his voice express every nuance of emotion that he's trying to impart with each song. Without sounding like he's straining, or even worse affecting to feel emotions, his voice catches during moments of passion and he shows an overall intensity in all his singing that really took me by surprise. I had enjoyed his voice on the first disc, but on Sanctified I was impressed by his willingness to take risks and let himself go like the great soul singers of the past. With this release, Jocky has taken the step that has allowed him to transcend being just another talented vocalist and demonstrates what it is to sing directly from your soul; what it means to be a soul singer.
The first time I listened to Sanctified I experienced the same uplifting feelings I get from listening to the best spiritually inspired music. Normally that only happens when I listen to people like The Staples and other gospel singers of equal power, classical music inspired by the wonder of creation, or pop musicians, like Xavier Rudd, who are able to tap into the same vein of inspiration as gospel singers but sing about earthly matters. Francis Jocky, in spite of the disc's title and the cover art depicting his with angel wings, hasn't written a gospel disc per se, as the lyrical content of songs like "Meant To Last" and "Everything" exemplify through their dissection of failed relationships, but taken as a whole the disc seems to reflect the awe he feels at being alive.
This disc celebrates being alive and the wonder it is that we as humans have the capability to feel. Even the pain we feel at lost love, or from anything that causes us sadness, is proof that we are alive and part of the world. Sanctified doesn't celebrate a particular faith or even a God, yet there is no denying the intensity of its spirituality. I'm trying my best not to read things into the music that aren't there, but after listening to the disc a number of times, none of those sensations were dispelled or diminished. Without looking through rose colour glasses or denying any of the problems the world faces, Jocky has created a six song EP redolent with the beauty of being alive.
With his first CD, Mr. Pain, Francis Jocky showed that he was a gifted song writer who understood the importance of heartfelt honesty in his music. Now, with the release of his second recording, Sanctified, he shows that not only does he still posses those gifts but the ability to take them to the level of artistry. There are very few musicians, let along popular musicians, who are able to surrender themselves to their music in such a way that it becomes a spiritual experience to listen to them no matter what they are singing about; Francis Jocky is one of them.