I could probably have you believe that, given the recent winter weather watch-storm-event-tracker mania of the Eastern half of the country, I’m huddled over a steaming Hot Pocket in a room barricaded by rock salt, Wonderbread, and empty milk containers. I’m not. It’s a balmy 68 degrees in my room and I’m trying to avoid the UCONN-Syracuse basketball game. In it’s own dramatically pathetic way, it’s worse. (The Huskies (6) are getting pummeled by the Wildcats (5) at the half, by the way. It’s not that I don’t like sports—don’t get me wrong. It’s just that it’s not baseball season—why am I explaining this?)
So anyway, there’s this new Steve Wynn (late of Dream Syndicate) release, Take Your Flunky and Dangle. I’m not sure what a flunky is, but it’s dangling, I assure you. Compiled from more than a decade of outtakes, B-sides, and rare cuts, the 11 songs on Flunky (sorry, it’s an addictive word) are a monumentally uninventive bunch: garage-band folk melodies, undeveloped lyrics, simple arrangements. But it’s quite good. Flunky, even. Why? Because again, simplicity resonates. It’s easier to become attached to a song that isn’t drowning in studio jizz because it crawls under your skin in a less layered way. And it’s Wynn’s gentle whiny drawl, like your 8th grade history teacher strapping on a guitar and playing on top of his desk, that sells you. With traces of Dylan, Tom Petty, and the occasional Jim Morrison roar, Wynn’s voice is more pleasing than that mixture probably sounds like it would be.
But it’s in the 2am liquored-up barroom venue that Wynn’s songs reach their full emotional, raw intention. “The Subject was Roses” almost seems to beg Bud bottles to be raised above the head in a misguided choral sing-a-long. The grizzly sound of “The Woodshed Blues,” recorded from a KCRW radio performance in 1987, is like vintage Dylan or Lou Reed. And the deceptively intentioned “Closer” is laced with Wilco on all sides, and its innocent enticement is impossible to resist, juvenile or not.
Take Your Flunky and Dangle is no transcendent grace. The songs hardly sound contemporary or timeless. But the bar was probably never that high, and the result is a warm, sincere collection of songs that prevail over their own fragility. Too bad UCONN can’t say the same.