With The Anthracite Shuffle, Tom Flannery proved, with stunning results, that his songs could not merely withstand the weight of but come fully, dramatically alive utilizing a detailed, practically baroque production. Yet those songs, no matter how imaginative, unmistakably sprung from a rooted, plaintive locale, a hushed landscape of intensely stark hues that somehow seems at its most emotionally candid and beautifully uninhibited wrested from the simplest acoustic setup. Flannery's third album, Drinking With Nick Drake, validated the thesis, making up with the stirring directness of his songs what it sacrificed in tonal color. His fourth album returns the songwriter to the subdued, stripped-down "demo" setting of Drinking, and this time sacrifices nothing, least of all a rich, full-bodied sound. By force of Flannery's gifted melodicism and some particularly gutsy guitar work, there is a distinctly felt vividness to the folk-blues of "Shadow's Man" and a benevolently drawn "The Drunkard," and even the songs with bleak outlooks or subject matter, whether intimate, historical (the poignant "Tin Soldiers," "Ian Wagner," another of his harrowing coal-miner daguerreotypes), or satirical (the biting and wise "I Want to Go to War"), belie the lean instrumentation. But it is in narrative invention that The Home Office Sessions, Vol. 1 truly revels and excels. The album is a fantastical creation, first sketching out its own alternate-world Pennsylvania, simultaneously as mythically dreamed and authentically real as William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County Mississippi and Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Oklahoma (he in fact channels the late troubadour, both literally and figuratively, on "What Would Woody Do?"), then reaching even further into his imagination -- conjuring whatever Heaven it is in which the Man in Black will eventually end up ("Johnny Cash Is Gonna Die") then putting his name on the same waiting list, installing a Confederate general in the age of MTV ("What If General Lee Were Alive Today"), and borrowing, just for a blissful moment, the lonely wail of Richard Manuel ("I Wish I Could Sing Like Richard Manuel"). There is a celebratory magic to this gorgeous set of songs, even at its saddest, and it is arguably Flannery's strongest yet, though that is frankly splitting hairs with such a consistently superlative discography as his.
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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart