Neal Francis’s Cover of ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ Is a New Age Disco Journey

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BW3540-1-0006 - Credit: Pooneh Ghana
BW3540-1-0006 - Credit: Pooneh Ghana

Neal Francis’s 2021 full-length In Plain Sight was a revelatory blast of soul, R&B, and off-the-rails piano jams, including the six-minute exploration “Sentimental Garbage” — the working title of In Plain Sight. Francis returns to that phrase for his new EP, a seven-song collection of odds and ends that he describes as “bittersweet scraps.”

Sentimental Garbage was the working title of our last LP,” Francis says, “which includes the track of the same name. We ended up calling that record In Plain Sight while removing the title track from the sequence. I knew this was my last chance to slap Sentimental Garbage on a record jacket, the thought of which always brought me great joy. It also works because this record is compiled of bittersweet scraps. I guess we could have also titled the record Burnt Ends.”

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The Chicago musician previews Sentimental Garbage, due Nov. 18 via ATO Records, with the release of two songs: the horn-driven original “Very Fine, Pts. 1 & 2” and a cover of Shuggie Otis’s signature “Strawberry Letter 23.” Francis’s rendition of “Strawberry Letter 23” evokes the Seventies charm of the disco-tinged single — a Top 5 hit for the Brothers Johnson in 1977 — and dazzles with a psychedelic mid-song breakdown.

Francis is currently on the road opening shows for Marcus King, including a pair of Ryman Auditorium gigs in Nashville on Sept. 29 and 30.

Sentimental Garbage tracklist:
“Very Fine, Pts. 1 & 2”
“Don’t Want You to Know”
“In Plain Sight”
“Strawberry Letter 23”
“I’m Watching”
“Can’t Stop the Rain (Parsonage Mix)”

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