Cory Flynn, from Brighton, is just 16 years old, but has been performing both as a soloist and in bands for nearly six years. And on the 15th September 2017, his first studio album, A Boy Named Hunger, will be released. His web site tells us that his style is heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams, and another source is quoted as claiming that he “Writes like Dylan, sings like Cash, looks like Beckham“.
I can’t really hear Cash in his vocals – in fact, at times he sounds a bit like Phil Ochs but with less vibrato. If you need a 21st century reference point, I guess you might cite Jake Bugg: not that you’d mistake one for the other, but both have distinctive vocal deliveries that focus on the internal rhythms of the song rather than on ‘fine’ singing. However, the influence of Dylan (and perhaps others of the same 60s ilk) is certainly noticeable: not only in much of his songwriting, but also in his rhythmic flatpicking and, at times, his vocal delivery. However, it would be simplistic to see him as (to quote ‘Raiders of the Sun’) “a copy of a copy of a copy“. While his lyrics sometimes have a pile-up of somewhat surreal imagery reminiscent of late 60s Dylan, they have a satiric bite of their own that bodes well for his future work. It’s a pity there isn’t a lyric sheet included.
I generally try to avoid leaning too hard on comparing one artist to another in a review, but this is a ‘young’ collection of songs from a young artist who is still finding his own voice, and it’s not really possible to avoid mentioning his borrowings from earlier music. Nevertheless, there is much here to like.
The instrumentation here is minimal: except for ‘Raiders Of The Sun’, where he plays piano, there’s just Cory’s acoustic guitar, augmented on ‘Night At The Opera’ by Chris Clarke on bass.
- ‘The Firing Squad’ is the most obvious example of a performer who wears his influences on his sleeve: the structure of the song is a little too close to ‘It’s All Right Ma’ for comfort, though the lyric is not so remorselessly depressive: indeed, the last line of the first verse had me laughing out loud, though I certainly wouldn’t describe it as a comic song.
- The guitar and vocals of ‘The Hobbyist’ remind me a little of Alan Hull/Lindisfarne. The guitar intro has an unexpected delicacy, morphing into a driving accompaniment. Some sparing double-tracking on the vocals (the only instance of double-tracking on the CD, that I noticed) gives the chorus added punch.
- ‘Open The Gates’ has another Dylanesque intro: for a second I thought I was going to hear ‘The Ballad of Hollis Brown’, though the body of the song goes in quite a different direction. On the other hand, since Dylan’s tune and accompaniment themselves borrow from Appalachian tradition, why not? The vocal delivery is also Dylan-ish, though plenty of singers have successfully gone the same route.
- ‘Raiders Of The Sun’, from which the album title is taken, substitutes piano for guitar. Despite the occasional lapse into Dylanesque vocal delivery, the song benefits from less mannered vocals. While there’s a harshness to his voice that will probably not be to anyone’s taste, it does show a range and a lower register I didn’t expect from the previous tracks. I’m getting rather fond of the couplet “To end her suffering/she must suffer her ending…“
- The guitar and, in places, the vocal on ‘Gospel of Khan’ are kind of reminiscent of Phil Ochs, but the wordplay seems very much Cory’s own. Very interesting.
- ‘Clean Dirt’ has a very slightly flamenco feel to the guitar, though the vocal delivery is somewhere between Dylan and Al Stewart, or maybe a rougher-hewn Jeff Buckley. A little too rough-hewn for my taste, but the lyric is interesting. Well, all his lyrics are interesting.
- The lyrics to ‘A Night At The Opera’ comprise a story that would not have felt out of place on Highway 61 Revisited.
- ‘Rachael’ is a long (nearly 11 minutes) story song/allegory. Against the odds, it held my attention all the way through.
- ‘Foreign Storm’ harks back to the more straightforward social messages of early Dylan or Phil Ochs, with a very apposite message for those who think that saying how awful things are is the same as being socially responsible. It just about avoids being one of the diluted messages about ‘plastic people’ subsequently associated with the ‘pop protest’ songs of the late 60s. It’s also being promoted as a single.
My first reaction to this album, when I checked out the videos on Cory’s web site, was ‘raw but interesting’. Having lived with the album itself for a few days, I find it a little easier to see past the obvious Dylan influences and perhaps appreciate that he has a wider range of musical and poetic influences and interests to work from, as he finds a voice that is more his own. Even in the songs where the Dylanisms verge on parody – and let’s not forget that even good parody requires a gift for inventive wordplay – there are frequent glimpses of a different viewpoint and intelligence at work. This is a promising beginning to his career in the studio.
Artist’s website: coryflynn.co.uk
‘Raiders Of The Sun’ – official video: