Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Vol. 1
According to Henry Flynt, “Brend” is closest to children’s play (a trove of his philosophical writings are available at http://www.henryflynt.org). “Brend” is what you do, just because you feel like doing “Brend” is not something like music, because music is a category, but “Brend” can be musical. It’s a somewhat difficult concept to grasp at first, but it’s the only possible explanation I can provide for Flynt’s music. It’s both completely traditional, but totally oblivious to the laws of tradition.
Like many, my first full immersion in roots music was the Anthology of American Folk Music. I was 15, the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh had a copy. I checked it out, took it home, and delved in. Delma Lachney’s “La Danseuse” brought tears that I was trying to restrain. I had already discovered minimalism by this point, I had heard LaMonte Young (despite what might, debatably, be considered his efforts not to be heard), Terry Riley, and the other big names. This was before I found out about people like Michael Nyman, David Behrman, or Arnold Dreyblatt. This was at a time where I thought minimalism was essentially derived from foreign ethnic music, either Indian or African, usually.
So, minimalism and folk music in my back pocket, I continued doing whatever it is that record collectors do. Researching, studying, listening. I eventually stumbled across Alan Licht’s Minimalism Top 10 list published in an older issue of Halana magazine, where Henry Flynt’s “You Are My Everlovin’” ranked Number 6, the first artist on the list that I hadn’t uncovered yet. So, I went out looking for the album, no luck. About a year later, Recorded released “You Are My Everlovin’”. There is only one really good record store in Pittsburgh, called Paul’s, and it was about 45 minutes away from where I lived at the time. I had exactly an hour and a half before I had to go to my job at the 76 gas station, which was 5 minutes from my house. I had also just broken up with my girlfriend.
The gas station job was pretty awful, the only benefit was that I could bring my own music to listen to. I ran down to Paul’s, they had a copy of Recorded’s reissue of “You Are My Everlovin’/Celestial Power,” I picked that up with a copy of the newest Bonny Billy album, and went to work with the hopes that I would be feeling better. I didn’t, but the music was pretty wonderful.
Minimalism is something I’d like to believe is very central to American culture. Though, it’s something I have to contend in the face of LaMonte and Riley’s raga-laden work, Reich’s African drumming or Jewish cantorial influenced music infers, or Phil Niblock’s subtle suggestion that minimalism is derived from the purely repetitive labor that is the fundamental crux of all cultures. This is largely naïve patriotism. Minimalism is simply about slowing down, a theme that is both essential and widespread. This is exactly why Flynt’s Americana-tinged work is so resonant, yet so surprisingly singular.
Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Volume 1 might be the strongest Flynt release to date. While the quality of You Are My Everlovin’ is truly superb, I was disappointed at first listen, I was expecting something truly based in Appalachian American folk, and instead I was hearing a Sitar-like raga drone with an Indian/American fiddle accompaniment. Ampersand’s Graduation and Other New Country and Blues Music often came frustratingly close to run-of-the-mill blues rock. Spindizzy was getting closer to what I had expected from Flynt, but it was so sloppy, so formative, and so varied that it was a little bit difficult to see Flynt’s often stated intentions.
Back Porch Hillbilly Blues is the third Flynt release on the diverse Locust record label, a label that has truly proved hey understand and care about Flynt’s music. Yet, the two long-form excursions that preceded this album only cement the fact that Back Porch is the place to start. Its four tracks are the perfect balance of Flynt’s vision. There are enough missed beats and wrong notes to still hold the amateurism and off-the-cuff energy of older folk recordings, yet somehow it isn’t as glaringly disruptive as it is on an album like Spindizzy.
Most interestingly, the raga-like quality of Flynt’s other work is transcended here. This is music that solely evokes Americana. Flynt’s love for this music is apparent in every note. The stand-out 16 minute “Blue Sky, Highway and Tyme” might be Flynt’s pinnacle. Maybe it’s the Folkways-mimicked packaging, but the piece feels so unmistakably authentic, and so powerfully conveys a sense of past American culture, that the listener can hear the boundaries as Flynt effortlessly walks past them.
There are so many other ideas that reach their most clear fruition on Back Porch. The anti-academic, anti-composer ideals that Tony Conrad often touts are met in a magnificent compromise in Flynt. He manages to both give the sense that he’s just participating in an established format, that he’s just doing it for fun, as a hobby, in his basement, and at the same time, represents all of the askew individuality that can only come from an autonomous mind. In Back Porch you can hear the true strength of conceptually-based work, it is gives the listener more to chew on than music, but it never estranges them. Locust has given the American public a gift in this release, hopefully prospective listeners will take a chance.