On the sepia-toned cover of his debut album, One By One, Robert Francis strikes a hackneyed rock pose, sporting aviator sunglasses and gulping coffee out of a mug marked "California". Yet the LA-area musician's songs are anything but stale, and present a sound as raw and fresh as the coffee grounds at the bottom of his mug. While the album's roots lie in folk-rock, Francis also employs jarring piano lines evocative of Philip Glass, edgy string arrangements, and occasionally manufactured beats to keep his music from going the retro route. On "Little Girl," a Romeo and Juliet tale, he layers an abrasive fiddle over fingerstyle guitar and distant synthesizers; creating a complex, ominous backdrop to a simple, mournful melody. Francis even references the Bard, singing in his sawdusty voice "We were just two people alike in dignity, From ancient grudge to the mutiny of meâ€¦" Robert Francis also makes use of banjo, lap steel, and parlor piano, recalling great American songwriters like Dylan or Van Zandt without resorting to lyrical clichÃ©s or constructed Americana. One album down, and he's already proving wise beyond his years.