Mick Flannery uses his gravel-edged voice to full effect on his latest album, Goodtime Charlie. He cultivates the nuances of his limits. He’ll sing in an aching falsetto or a booming bass with the same grit in his voice. Flannery isn’t afraid of drama and theatrically presents his music. This is ART, it says, and that’s not a bad thing.
The Irishman pens pleasant melodies with clean and sparse arrangements and an ear for beauty. Much of Goodtime Charlie, Flannery’s eighth and first American release, was conceived, written, and created during COVID-19. There is a sense of loneliness on this record, even in the songs that feature duets with artists. Flannery uses silence or the sound of a lone instrument to create a mood, and it’s mostly a quiet record.
That works to good effect on tracks such as “Shalom”, which addresses the tricky subject of the Middle East without ever saying so. The lyrics can get quite dark (i.e., “Waiting for war to come / Devil may care where it’s coming from.”) without being specific. Violence is seen as a bad thing in and of itself. One doesn’t know who is pulling the trigger and why. The message is in the song’s title. Shalom means peace. But in light of the history and the complicated situation, Flannery keeping the tone hushed makes sense. Otherwise, the track might explode!
Singer-songwriter Ana Egge collaborated on three songs over Zoom, “Neon Light”, “Machine”, and “Someone to Tell it To”. They each offer low-key pop pleasures with catchy hooks and repetitive choruses. The cuts address quotidian pleasures: a band getting ready for tonight’s show, a car mechanic who finds joy in engines and confusion in human affairs, just traveling down the road with a companion. Again, the tracks share a discreet vibe that understates what’s going on in the song to express what makes the situations special.
Goodtime Charlie was recorded in Cork, Ireland, with Flannery and produced by Christian Best. It features long-time musical companions Alan Comerford on guitar and Mikey O’Connell on bass. Best also plays drums. The title song abstractly tells the story of a fellow who lives for the present and, unfortunately, suffers the consequences of such an existence. The musical accompaniment is purposefully sloppy to create the illusion of spontaneity. Even the language is less controlled. With a thick accent, the Irish singer croons, “Tryna help you grumpy motherfuckers let go”, but the loose accompaniment suggests his companions have already left him or are bound to do so.
There are several other fine collaborations, including a heartfelt duet about the death of a Black man (“The Fact”) with Valerie June and a surprisingly intimate one about issues of state and citizenship (“Minnesota”) with Anais Mitchell. The rest of the material contains some lovely music and some serious tunes, but close listening suggests Flannery is afraid of taking a stand on a host of concerns. He’s more concerned with painting a picture than presenting a point of view, and that can get a bit bothersome. Art with a purpose can turn into propaganda. Flannery knows this; however, it would be better to express his ideas as much as he does his emotions.