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Johnny Flynn, Caleb Stine, Paul Banks, and Cheyenne Marie Mize
Sonar, Baltimore, MD
October 25, 2010
Originally, I was just going to include a blurb about this show in my Johnny Flynn review last Monday, but then I found out that Baltimore’s great Caleb Stine was opening, so it was necessary to say more.
Caleb Stine has made a name for himself in Baltimore as a writer of fantastic Americana and alt-country during a several-years stint as the frontman for Caleb Stine and the Brakemen. Stine introduced the night’s musicians and promised some heartfelt music. For his own part, he certainly delivered.
His use of an open tuning on his acoustic created a nice sonic cradle for a pleasant but strong tenor (not the sort of voice you’d initially expect from a towering and bearded bard). Stine is promoting a new CD of solo material, and his songs range from classic country fare (“I Wasn’t Built for a Life Like This,” the title track from the new album) to humorous local flavor (“Doing Time in Baltimore,” a nice tune, although I take issue with his decision to get fictionally shot at Greenmount and 31st Street, when 21st Street is a much more likely place to do so).
Stine brought along Paul Banks, an Austin, TX pop-rocker from the band The Carousels, and the pair split their set right down the middle, in a songwriters in the round format (or perhaps songwriters in a line?). Banks has a soaring range covering three octaves with ease, and his upbeat songs provided an interesting counterpoint to Stine’s mostly downbeat set. Banks closed out the pair’s set with a soul medley in response to Stine’s line that soul music is perhaps the only type of music that can “kick country music’s ass.”
Cheyenne Marie Mize is Johnny Flynn’s opening act for the tour. She was not terribly impressive in person, but her songs improve with additional instrumentation on her recordings, and when she leaves aside the garage-pop mush and just sings a pretty song that takes advantage of her voice, she can hold the room. You can hear her songs here. For maximum smilage, skip forward to “Before Lately.”
The show fell on the eve of Johnny Flynn’s U.S. release of Been Listening (you can read my gushing here). He’s making his way throughout the States solo. He caries with him his battered 1930s National, full of barks and honks and distorted pluck. Hearing the songs without the expansive instrumentation of the album in no way diminishes their power but rather provides some new joys: Flynn’s clean fingerstyle guitar playing can be more fully appreciated without the distractions; but the reason to go see him in this format is the booming, room-filling quality of his baritone, full of grit and world-weariness, unadorned and front and center.
Flynn is charming and funny on stage: his effort to say “lee-zhure” instead of “lezhure” provoked a spontaneous cultural dialog with the audience, and he was good enough to explain that he could not, in fact, play by himself the three trumpets required for his song “Churlish May.” The show was energetic despite how exhausted he appeared to be before getting on stage. (His morning session at local public radio station WTMD explains the exhaustion.)
Flynn drew a good-sized crowd of supporters, especially for a Monday; here’s hoping that the tour’s a success and that he’ll be able to bring the band with him the next time he crosses the Atlantic.
—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)
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