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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1671

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John Flynn: The End of the Beginning
by George Graham

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/18/2012)

As ubiquitous as singer-songwriters are in music, it's a sphere that still seems to have endless well of potential. There are some with interesting and eclectic musical settings, and some with full pop arrangements, while others are more basic and straightforward. The whole singer-songwriter genre, of course, sprang from the folk music scene, particularly that of the 1960s. And while most contemporary singer-songwriter recordings bare little resemblance to the Sixties folk scene, once in a while there is an album that harkens back to the ethos of the early days with strumming acoustic guitars, fairly simple melodies and a focus on often-allegorical lyrics. Such is the new CD by Philadelphia-area singer-songwriter John Flynn, called The End of the Beginning.

John Flynn is of the generation that experienced the tail end of the Sixties folk scene. The 54-year-old has been writing songs and performing for over 30 years. His songwriting is fairly wide-ranging, from protest songs to children's songs to humorous novelty songs, in styles ranging from folk to more pop-oriented to country-influenced. The new CD, at least his ninth, is a kind of classic folkie's record, with 11 articulate original compositions plus one Bruce Springsteen cover, performed in an understated acoustic-dominated setting. And while there are some additional instruments added on almost every track, they tend to be subtle. The songs are a nice collection of reflections by a man of Flynn's age, thinking about the passage of time, singing a love-song to his wife, and considering the state of the world, from the toxic political atmosphere to democracy protests around the world. They range from light-hearted to fairly profound, in some instances both.

Despite the understated sound, Flynn is joined by a number of musical guests, including well-known singer-songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson, bassist Freebo, Native American flute player Bill Miller, as well as Flynn's daughter Sarah Flynn and the members of the trio Brother Sun on backing vocals. The CD was produced by a guy who goes by the single name "Harvey" who served as a multi-instrumentalist on various string, keyboard and percussion instruments.

The CD opens with its title piece The End of the Beginning, which has the guest vocal appearance by Kris Kristofferson. The song is a kind of classic philosophical folkie's composition, reflecting on the passage of time. <<>>

One of the more interesting tracks from a lyrical direction is Song of the Subliminal Hymnal. It's perspective, from the standpoint of an insect, is cause for reconsidering just about everything. <<>>

Democracy (The Weed) is a kind of 21st century update of the old 1960s folk protest song, taking into consideration people power from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Arab Spring. <<>>

More introspective is Crazy As Ever, an old-fashioned love song for his wife of 27 years. <<>>

Also in the 1960s tradition of allegorical lyrics is the The Crow, which features Flynn's daughter Sarah joining on the vocals. <<>>

Addressing the current ugly partisan political atmosphere and those who stoke it is When I Throw Stones. An interesting and slightly unexpected twist is the bit of tropical direction to the accompaniment. <<>>

The Cup is another fine track that is a reminder of how a good songwriter can give timeless quality to something in the present tense. It was inspired by the return of injured veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. <<>>

The Bruce Springsteen cover is She's the One. Flynn's folky acoustic setting gives the song a distinctive spin. <<>>

The CD closes with The Web and the Feather which Flynn said was written for Camp Dreamcatcher, a summer camp for children with HIV/AIDS. It has perhaps the most eclectic musical setting on the CD, with Native American flute and Australian digeridoo. <<>>

Veteran singer-songwriter John Flynn's new ninth CD The End of the Beginning is a fine collection of songs in the classic folk-influenced singer-songwriter mode, with an acoustic-dominated sound and songs that carry on the lyrical tradition of folkies going back to the 1960s. Flynn writes from the perspective of middle-aged guy, being more philosophical than rabble-rousing, though like the folkies of decades past, he lets the state of the world form the basis for a few songs. The CD's understated production strikes the right balance between maintaining the acoustic folkie sound, and providing some degree of sonic interest with added instrumentation and special guest vocalists. With Flynn's decidedly warm, appealing vocals, the CD makes for great listening that does not sacrifice either musical interest or lyrical impact for the other.

Our grade for audio quality is close to an "A." The CD is well-recorded, with the acoustic instruments well-handled, sounding warm and intimate, and Flynn's voice is given the same sonically respectful treatment. The dynamic range -- how well the CD maintains the differences between louder and softer moments -- could always be better.

There is an almost overwhelming number of singer-songwriters on scene these days in a very wide variety styles. But if you are up for a traditional-style folkie an acoustic guitar with something to say with his lyrics in the 21st Century, you can't get much better than John Flynn.

(c) Copyright 2011 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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