One of the collateral benefits of a finely tuned folk collection is the possibility for further travel they offer the listener. A song is a spur to excavate, in search of its history, its alternative readings by other artists. John Francis Flynn’s solo debut album does that in abundance and, for that alone, he deserves laurels aplenty.
Flynn is a veteran of five-piece Dublin band Skipper’s Alley, and his solo flight swoops and soars with the confidence of a musician whose been honing his own identity slowly over time. Echoes are many and diverse, so let’s get them out of the way early. John Grant and Morrissey, in turn, lurk in the background of Flynn’s sometimes unequivocal, then deliciously meandering vocals, and the renowned Liam Weldon’s plain-spoken style can be heard whispering in the ether around My Son Tim, a Napoleonic ballad of war, injury and the betrayal of the State, and a tale that reverberates into the 21st century.
Much is being made of Flynn’s release on this Rough Trade/River Lea label, thanks in large part to the added visibility afforded to him by his support on a Lankum tour. There is, indeed, much to savour here. His song collecting has a delightful magpie quality, with a West Indian shanty, Shallow Brown, dramatically reimagined as a funereal lonesome ballad – Flynn’s voice up close and personal on the mix, relating the tale in a weary, almost defeated manner.
The beating heart of the collection is the trio, Bring Me Home, anchored by the bereft and spartan tale of The Dear Irish Boy. This segues into a rousing and insistent I Would Not Live Always, that in turn circles around to An Buachaillín Ban – also an alternative title for some versions of The Dear Irish Boy – with Flynn’s improvisational vocals underpinning a beautiful lyrical recitation by Saileog Ní Cheannabháin. It is a bold triptych that grabs the listener by the throat, insisting on full engagement throughout what is a sustained 11-plus minutes – no mean feat in an age of instant gratification.
Ewan MacColl’s Come Me Little Son (a song closely associated with Luke Kelly and The Dubliners) is a well chosen closer, shaven and sparse to its core. Flynn’s double whistles make their robust way through Tralee Gaol and the wind instrumental baseline of Chaney’s Tape Dream highlight the tape loop drones that sinuously bind the album together.
The collection is experimental and inventive, but with a nagging monochromatic quality to the pacing and colour that hints at even better things to come.