The release concert for the new CD, Mercy,
July 9, 2016
On Mercy, perhaps Flynn’s most ambitious and satisfying work to date; the long years of rambling and exploration pay off. Remarkably diverse styles and textures picked up during all of John’s musical fence hopping accompany him home with effortless authenticity as eleven Flynn originals share the disc with two brilliantly rendered covers. Regardless of the stylistic choices over the decades, the quality of Flynn's songs was never in doubt, but on Mercy the arrangements and performances handily measure up.
The opening track, “Standing Ovation”, is a driving
folk rock anthem inspired by the retirement of
longtime friend and legendary folk DJ Gene Shay
after 60 years of broadcasting. The album’s title
track was written at the request of author/activist
Jennifer Thompson for an upcoming film version of
the New York Times best seller, Picking Cotton. The
Paul Simon-esque rhythms on “Mercy” are fanned into
a saxophone-driven R&B/Gospel jubilee, as searing
and urgently delivered lyrics tell of the profound
effect of being forgiven by a man named Ronald
Cotton after Jennifer’s mistaken identification and
testimony sent him to prison for eleven years for a
crime he did not commit.
”Buffalo Nickels”, an older but previously unreleased Americana composition features Sarah Larson on fiddle and vocal harmony as it tells it’s chilling tale of a desperate family farmer’s surrender to despair. “Between the States”, formerly released only on the live Flynn CD, To the Point, uses a Civil War canvas to beg forgiveness for decisions made and pending, and pulls out all the stops in a “make Levon proud” arrangement that features Harvey rocking out on -almost- everything but the kitchen sink. Flynn composed “Eldorado” to verses by Edgar Allen Poe that he first heard in a John Wayne film by the same name. The track features John (for the first time) on piano, and draws from classic 70s rock textures like Eagles, Neil Young, and even Led Zeppelin. “ Soul” is a haunting acoustic throwback in an early Cat Stevens vein about human connection at a quantum level.
“Get Up (Tracy G’s Last Will and Testament)” references Flynn’s decade-long volunteering with incarcerated men as it shares advice from a friend who was gunned down shortly after leaving prison. The track’s dark context is irrepressibly counterbalanced by Flynn’s passionate call and response vocals, as his bare-knuckled ukulele leads a New Orleans-style parade march. “ If I Fall Behind” is heart breaking “coming-of-aging” waltz that Flynn, a long-time runner, wrote during a cross country race in which he briefly entertained notions of keeping pace with his 27 year-old daughter. Flynn is a staunch opponent of the death penalty, and “Just Like Merle Haggard Said (Sing Me Back Home)” represents a juxtaposition of abolitionist sensibilities with orchestral textures, overlaid on a rocking Americana frame. The song was penned for Flynn’s scheduled 2015 death row concert at Raleigh, North Carolina’s Central Prison. (Prison authorities would later cancel the performance.) Kris Kristofferson’s iconic early career hit, “Help Me Make It Through the Night” finds new tenderness and vulnerability as a duet sung with Kristofferson’s youngest daughter, Kelly. Yudkin’s admiration for Floyd Kramer can be heard on the cut as he trades old-school Nashville licks with Steve Fishell’s pedal steel.
“Backstage with the Devil (A Song for Kris)” is based on another classic Kristofferson tune, “To Beat the Devil”. Presented simply and with deep affection for his longtime mentor and friend, Flynn echoes Robert Frost when he sings “It never gets no easier for a man to save his soul” and shares his appreciation for the humor, grace and courage with which Kristofferson has faced his well-documented memory challenges, and defiantly continued to share his music and spirit into his now eightieth decade.
After more than three decades, John Flynn remains the very definition of the modern folksinger /activist. His songs continue to be deeply personal and heart-centered; while his powerful voice and acoustic guitar playing have maintained the same vital, sweat-soaked intensity that first drew crowds in a South Jersey beach bar. Meanwhile, Flynn’s volunteer work in prisons and halfway houses has led to the creation of New Beginning-Next Step, a group he now leads in Wilmington Delaware (aka Murder town, USA) to help incarcerated men transition to lives of success and freedom. A broad musical palette, a no-holds-barred performing style, an activist’s heart with the courage of its convictions, and the stubbornness to continue making the same mistakes over and over again. Either John Flynn is committed… or he should be!
You can follow John on twitter @singwriter
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