In 1996, Flannery released a limited-edition cassette, The Anthracite Shuffle: Reflections on an Anthracite Heritage, as his first recording. Following a stunning official debut album, Song About a Train, in 1998, Flannery set about re-recording his initial concept for proper release. The original song cycle was actually taped from a radio broadcast and recorded in one night, essentially live, and so contained some rough patches and suspect fidelity. This new version of The Anthracite Shuffle, therefore, is an entirely different record, and one that reflects how Flannery actually wanted the concept to sound. As such, it boasts entirely new arrangements and a different gathering of musicians plus one entirely new song. A working playwright, Flannery basically turns the album into a series of monologues, with each of the songs representing the voice of a different character, and instead of voicing all the roles himself, he hands the lead over to different friends throughout the album. The music is imbued with an almost gothic country-blues complexion, a sub-Depression sepia tone that has everything to do with the almost Appalachian pallor of the subject matter.
In just 16 songs, Flannery unravels a novelistic history of a part of the American experience that has been virtually left behind, and nearly forgotten. Lest it be accused of downheartedness, though, the album has plenty of spunk and its fair share of wicked gallows humor. It sonically takes on a near-bluegrass exuberance and playfully jaunty blues as often as it chokes out a weary, old-world folk tune or withered eulogy. And as exceptional as his first album was, The Anthracite Shuffle is even better. Tom Flannery is one of the most gifted songwriters to emerge at the turn of the century. His songs capture a time and place in history with words, when usually it couldn't be captured even in a hundred photographs. Unlike its subject matter, the album is bold, resonant, and full of zestful life.