For all of the acoustic accouterment surrounding Ashleigh Flynn on this album, she is a rocker with a power-pop soul, and what soul. With the help of the violin and voice of Tracy Grammer as well as the exceptional "backup" of Portland, Oregon's Sneakin' Out, Flynn presents herself as-is (meaning live), and in this case, as-is is as good as it gets. She's a little bit country, maybe, but she's a whole lot power-pop and the combination is intriguing, to say the least. Replace those acoustic instruments with electric guitars and a stack of amps on half of the songs presented here and you have a budding power pop star of consequence.
The album, mostly recorded live before a small audience at Mississippi Studios in Portland in 2005, is amazingly studio solid but with a flare of a good live performance. Actually, it was a great live performance, for the musicians obviously jelled, and like Ashleigh herself wrote in the liner notes, "This was the most fun I ever had making a record." The fun is obvious (especially on the outtake, Selkie Blooper, where Flynn forgets the lyrics to the accompaniment of the theme from Twilight Zone and shrieking thriller violin), but oh that music!
Carry Me is pure ensemble jam feel while maintaining structure, sounding like a hybrid of very early Widespread Panic and Grateful Dead on bluegrass hormones. Credit Flynn's willingness to let the band play and the band's willingness to do just that. David Gerow's "lead mandolin" has that stratocaster aura as the band plows through a three minute song which should have been much, much longer. Selkie shines as an example of what Flynn can do with her voice and her soul, bending notes and emotion at the end of lines which make a really fine song a great one. Smooth and soft, it maintains that electric edge while not losing the acoustic sound and feel. Wishing Well and Evermore will appear on an Ashleigh Flynn-Plugged album, I'm guessing (after hearing this, I am convinced that she has a classic electric power pop album in her), because rock is not so much the instruments as the feel, and these tunes rock. Rocky Top and Will the Circle Be Unbroken are the two non-originals here and though they have been done a zillion times, Flynn and cohorts perform them admirably. In fact, she lays a lighter tone for Circle which is captivating. She pays her homage to country and bluegrass with Deep River Hollow and Devil's Pass, two much better-than-average songs. Those who missed Jack Green during his run as an under-the-radar power pop star can hear his signature sounds in ISA, though it is certain that Flynn wrote it unaware. Plug in guitars and substitute Green's voice for Flynn's and you have a track which would have fit well on any of his LPs.
Credit should be given to all involved with this album, from Flynn and Sneakin' Out who put in stellar performances, to Tracy Grammer who shows why she is much in demand as vocalist and musician, to the rest of the musical cast. And a side note has to be included for Skip Von Kuske, who turns the cello into perfect accompaniment. A big plug and pat on the back to Mississippi Studios and Sarah Bloch, also, who made this live album studio quality. The sound is exceptional!
Of course, the main credit goes to Ashleigh Flynn, who through her songwriting and personality reminds us that music is a gift and a thrill. On Selkie Blooper, she turns to her musical compadres and says simply, "You guys are great." I'm sure the sentiment was returned. It sure sounds like it.
Now, if anyone can tell me how to access the Quicktime Video supposedly included on this disc, I'd love to hear from you. And they said that computers were supposed to make life easier.
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