Henry Flynt

Back Porch Hillbilly Blues, Vol. 1

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In any discussion about Henry Flynt, the following point should inevitably be made. In avant-garde music, creating something new from a kernel off the ear of some traditional musical corn is a traditional act in itself -- popular, self-evident, and inevitably clich├ęd in just about any musical era. The work of Flynt is a rare example of music extrapolated from a folk music source that manages to become folk music itself, at least in the performances where something didn't go wrong with the experiment. The latter type of artistic grimace is also part of the series of faces made by a fascinating Flynt in the era before he gave up music completely, but are strictly in the minority on this excellent collection.

Since the late '90s, several record labels have been releasing the complete body of material Flynt documented in a period roughly spanning the late '60s to early '80s. All of the releases are worthwhile, all could serve as an introduction as well as a main course, but the ease with which a set entitled "volume one" could be remembered as a starting point is both helpful and appropriate. Of the four pieces in this program, half are just plain brilliant examples of this artist's work, while the others contain a mixture of the well-done with what a native North Carolinian might describe as "could'nuh-should'nuh." It isn't that Flynt can't sing; on the contrary, when he gets it together on "Blue Sky, Highway and Tyme" it's because he gets into chanting rather than trying to sound like some guy that would sell you a tire on the Salisbury bypass. "Sky Turned Red" has the less-worthy vocal. Appalachian singing may be teeming with sopranos, but here Flynt sounds more like a munchkin. A comparison can be made with Jandek -- enjoyable on the weird level, but a sparkless Flynt. Luckily, that's the shortest cut of the four -- less than three minutes. Length is a big part of the Flynt gestalt, since the ultimate goal is an escape from the song form that so totally dominates old-timey and country music. Instead, elements of these genres -- boogie riffs, familiar chord progressions, fiddle riffs -- become parts of repeating patterns. The performances featured here are particularly authentic rhythmically, with the virtuoso fiddle piece entitled "Acoustic Hillbilly Jive" the masterpiece of the bunch. At one point, Flynt pulls off a stunning shift in tempo from fast to totally slow -- in fact, a complete halt -- the fiddle immersed in a long-held note as if the world was holding its breath. The moment would not be out of place in a traditional Appalachian show-stopper fiddle solo, meaning Flynt has flown home. Speaking of which, since the label couldn't find anything worth printing on three of four pages in the CD booklet, how about publishing the address of the house in Greensboro, NC, where Flynt grew up, so local arts denizens can stick a plaque up there?

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
blue highlight denotes track pick