Human experience burns ferociously on this extraordinary debut from the uncompromising Irish artist John Francis Flynn, stalwart of Dublin traditional group Skipper’s Alley. Tiene una voz como cuero viejo, blunt yet sincere, holding his notes like bagpipe drones, resisting all weathers. Around it whirl traditional instruments and Tascam four-track cassette-tape loops, masterminded by composer Ross Chaney, giving the album an unearthly intensity.
Flynn begins with Roud ballad Lovely Joan, about a woman who tricks a lustful man for his horse: he sings it like a distant yet intriguing observer, an old man resting a hand on his fence-post. Phil Christie’s keyboard introduction enhances the strange, spellbinding mood, recalling Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s compositions and the late Dolly Collins’s organ arrangements (Flynn writes in the liner notes that Collins’s “radical yet rooted” work with sister Shirley hugely influenced him).
En otra parte, more treasures abound. Shallow Brown is a stunning song about enslavement and heartbreak lifted by Ultan O’Brien’s sighing fiddle, and Consuela Breschi’s subtle duetting vocals. Chaney’s Tape Dream twists Flynn’s tin whistles into clouds of peculiar, murmurating birds. The whistle even gets its own moment on Tralee Gaol, Flynn’s breaths and beating foot creating an enthralling, unsettling one-man band.
An ambitious three-part work, Bring Me Home, sits near the end of the album, distant voices building towards its fast-paced second act, and a third in Irish, with sean nós singer Saileog Ní Cheannabháin. Yearning towards the places of our birth and to death, it’s an incredibly moving listen in these pandemic times, as is Flynn’s stripped-down finale, Ewan MacColl’s Come My Little Son, about a boy who never sees his father as he builds “England’s motorway”.
Joseph Spence's Encore (Smithsonian Folkways) collects vigorous unreleased recordings of the influential Bahamian folk musician. Tracks such as Out on the Rolling Sea show off his dextrous fingerpicking and singing style, a mix of Bahamian fisher rhyming songs, scat and the blues. Finnish traditional musician Minna Koskenlahti's Toinen/Other (Bandcamp), is a fascinating experimental LP, conjuring up sounds of nature, technology and terror from a frame drum, Spanish tambore and månmarkapipa (a wooden whistle). The endlessly prolific and brilliant Alasdair Roberts also releases The Old Fabled River (Drag City) with Scandinavian collective Völvur, a free-wheeling, celebratory set of Roberts compositions and Norwegian traditionals.