If everything was fair and the right things always happened to the right people, Christina Cone, the singer/songwriter at the helm of Nashville’s Frances Cone, would be the next Ellie Goulding, or the next Kelly Clarkson—the next loud, honest voice in pop music.
She’s got the pipes for it: Her charismatic voice is like strained sunshine, a light filtered so the harsher parts are blocked, revealing only the softest hues. She is truly a joy to listen to—a powerhouse flying under the radar—and after discovering the band in our studio and at NPR’s Tiny Desk, I realized I could watch her sing all day. But Cone isn’t chasing pop singularity. She’s chasing something better. She’s making art with Andrew Doherty, her partner in life and in music where they join voices to create stunning, soothing harmonies on occasion and synthy, stable melodies almost always. Cone released her first album under the Frances Cone moniker in 2013, but with Doherty, the project resounds on a deeper level. They’ve achieved a warm folky pop-rock sound on the band’s first album with this lineup, Late Riser, a record that for all its big-hearted energy and infectious songs still can’t escape the temptation to over-produce.
You’ll fall head over heels for Frances Cone’s story, which is about timing more than anything else. Cone named the band after her father and grandfather who share not only a name, but also a birthday. The timing in Cone’s own life has also been serendipitous: She met Doherty on 12/12/12, a pleasing numerical coincidence and the event that would change her life both personally and professionally. This album feels like a culmination of the six years that have transpired since. It’s funny, then, that the album should be called Late Riser, because it’s not late at all. It’s right on time.
Late Riser is 10 songs about family, love and work. “Failure,” a pleasingly bouncy track with an Americana flair thanks to Doherty’s bassline, is the catchiest of the batch, besides maybe “Arizona,” their hit that’s attracted more than 11 million Spotify streams as of this writing. And the latter, a touching tune about Cone’s relationship with her brother and their religious upbringing, is certainly a hit. Though it, unfortunately, sounds that way because it sounds like it was made for Spotify. A lot of the album is that way—soaring pop tunes that start to drift because of oversaturated production, destined to land on a mood playlist. If only you could peel some of it back: Cone’s voice and lyrics are entrancing and worth paying attention to. “Late Riser” could be a rousing ballad if not for all the theatrics.
The album opener, “Wide Awake,” at first seems to fall into that same trap, but not only is it stirring, it’s textured in the right way. Just when you think the song is wrapping up, a psychedelic guitar solo kicks up, inviting you to experience the rest of the record. And “Unraveling,” which joined “Arizona” and “Wide Awake” on an EP of sorts last year, is a beautiful song no matter how you spin it.
Any time an artist can make a breakdown of the spirit sound that hopeful and truthful, it’s worth applauding them. If some aspects of the album sound empty, “Unraveling” very nearly fills the holes. Frances Cone are skilled musicians, and this album is a testament to their years of calculated hard work. If you enjoy this album’s sound, spend some time soaking in it: Upon repeated listens, it reveals more and more pockets of light.
Check out our Paste Studio session from 2018 with Frances Cone: