Review: Casey Black w/ Mick Flannery – Coughlan’s, Cork, 19.05.14
Words: Conor O’Toole
Photos: Rory Coomey
There was something on the radio yesterday about symmetry.
Apparently flowers use their symmetrical patterns to attract insects.
Mick Flannery was playing back-up to his friend Casey Black in Coughlan’s last night. He wasn’t so much performing songs from his new album By the rule as re-living them in front of us (Ireland’s number 1 album this week as we were later informed by Casey). The intimate setting allowed access to every twitch, every rough/smooth melody, every fingerpick.
In among the easy banter, which was lapped up by the 50-odd souls, one anecdote stood out. It was about his recent time living in Berlin, an observational piece about drugs in the context of the city gentrifying itself. It was a raw, personal song and I found myself imagining it in the hands of Nick Cave (another one-time Berliner) given the full Bad Seeds treatment, with its compelling stalking blues bassline from his metronomic left hand.
Of course the earthily accessible, soulful quality of the set was no surprise, every ounce of feeling wrung from barely moving lips. More than anything though it was obvious how wonderfully symmetrical a songwriter he is, themes and rhymes and harmonies folding over themselves as they embed pleasurably in your cortex.
As the crowd settled again – mature in age, let’s say, and containing more women than men – Nashville-native Casey Black took the mike and introduced himself with ‘Trouble’, a gut-wrenching account of an abortive suicide attempt complete with filled bath and blade on wrist. “That’s the way to win them over” he joked but we were right there with him. It set the tone for a series of heartfelt, emotionally gripping story songs, taking in relationships – a lot – and existential meditations on life, with current album Lay you in the loam featured heavily.
‘Happiness’, for example, with more than a hint of Jay Farrar about it (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt), a minted alt country sound, like Bruce Springsteen on a smaller scale, more intimate. Suiting Coughlan’s down to the ground once again, in other words.
Or the crashing impact of ‘Museum made of glass’.
Story songs. And with a genuine literary depth. Like the wonderfully direct life-cycle imagery of ‘Flowers’. Flowers at my birth, flowers at my funeral. Symmetry, you might say.
Heartfelt songwriting, earnest even and for that reason regularly close to the bone. Speaking of that, Black produced ‘The Sarge’, the memorable diary of an Iraqi veteran’s brain injury, expressed in devastating plain language.
All of this was delivered via his impressive vocal range, from a low growl to a high blues wail. Both were present in my own standout moment of the gig, the rousing ‘Fire Fire Fire Fire’ from the current album, which was preceded by an arresting therapy anecdote – “When I was 21, my therapist asked me why everyone was allowed to be angry except me.” As introductions go, I don’t think I’ve heard better.
Later Mick was back for a few duets. Two men, two acoustic guitars.The authentic blue-collar feel to the songwriting (fittingly, Black was in fact wearing a blue shirt) was given full vent with Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Youngstown’ from The ghost of Tom Joad, a historical war epic spanning the American Civil War to Vietnam, but with a resonating smalltown payoff.
A perfect end to a night all about songwriters.