NEPA roots explored by Tom Flannery and Bret Alexander on “Dupont Back Porches”
Take two of Northeast Pennsylvania’s most prolific musical bards – two men who have more accurately put to song life here in our little slice of the Keystone, perhaps better than anyone, stick them in a recording studio together, and what do you get?
Well, the answer is even more instantly personal and gripping than one might imagine. Tom Flannery and Bret Alexander deliver their souls on a pauper’s platter through eleven tracks of intense rumination, homespun optimism, and benevolent defiance. No flash, no candy-coated hooks in the production, just a couple of master songsmiths brandishing acoustic guitars, riding a wistful train of observation through the recesses of daily life. As it turns out, that train passes through some fascinating territory.
Recorded at Alexander’s Saturation Acres studio in Dupont, with Flannery and Alexander trading vocals throughout (Alexander augments many tracks with his trademark multi-instrumentalism via mandolin, keys and harmonica), the album is very much in step with the dry-county character of Springsteen opuses like “The Ghost of Tom Joad” or “Nebraska,” with the ragged wit of Americana royalty like Townes Van Zandt or Guy Clark.
Said writers’ influence can be felt while feeling the uneasy reconciliation with the past on tracks like “When The Four Winds Blow,” with Flannery trying to “forget the building blocks left from the sins of regret,” finally succumbing to the idea of “leftover dreams.” The title track personifies the NEPA everyman’s stab at immortality – Alexander singing “this back porch is where I’ll make my stand; this back porch is where I’ll take your hand. Like a fingerprint no two the same this back porch keeps me in the game.”
Elsewhere, “Got To Be The Change” is fueled by the ghosts of classic 1960’s protest fare – one can’t help think Barry McGuire meets Joni Mitchell, with a message emphasizing social action now rather than later; the song is one of the most infectiously melodic on the album. Cuts like “Music in the Mud” seem autobiographical, with Alexander vocalizing “there’s music in the blood round here,” and lyrics that imply the writer’s ability to potentially find a song in even the most inconspicuous of everyday life. Much of the album’s charm is the dichotomy of voices – Flannery’s fluid, whispery delivery offset by Alexander’s more craggy, weathered tone. It’s two very distinct presentations, making for one enchantingly cohesive fireside tale.
If you’re enthralled by the bit players who become heroes in great American musical lore, this album is sure to become the stuff of repeat listening. “Dupont Back Porches” doesn’t revel in the grandiose endings; it relishes the long walk it takes to get there.
Mark Uricheck is a Weekender correspondent who writes weekly CD reviews. Reach Weekender at [email protected]
“Dupont Back Porches”
Tom Flannery and Bret Alexander