(Sun God Records, CD)
Writing catchy songs and recording them well is Vermont singer-songwriter Aaron Flinn's chief pursuit. His sixth full-length CD, Giving Up the Ghost, finds him further down the road to pop perfection.
Although he's a born performer, Flinn is perfectly at home in the studio, where his musical chops are met by well-honed production skills. His latest, recorded largely in his own house, showcases a seasoned musician who wants to get things just right.
He pretty much does. Opener "Hole in the Sun" features deftly played guitars that intersect in arcs of shimmering tone. Instrumentally, Flinn resembles Michael Hedges and Adrian Belew at their most pop-oriented. Six-string aficionados will find plenty to dig here.
The title track sets Flinn's voluminous baritone vocals against a slice of rock noir. There's a satisfying romanticism underneath the song's cool exterior. "I hear the slow drip drip drip of a leaking dream / Stretched like a clothesline, rattled like a cage / Because my queen must have a kingdom, my queen must have a king," he sings.
Flinn's ukelele rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" perplexed me until I read in the liner notes that it's a tribute to the late Hawaiian performer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. Now it makes more sense.
"The Ground Is Giving Up" is another dedication, this time to "the people of New Orleans." It's hard not to be cynical about the umpteenth musical rally for the Big Easy, but Flinn displays some real emotion here.
One of the coolest things about this record is that Flinn plays everything himself, from upright bass to lap steel. Musicians that go it alone without compromising quality always impress me.
Flinn is a gifted songwriter, and stripped-down numbers such as "Watershed" highlight his abilities. The song makes excellent use of spare acoustic guitar and intimate vocals; the only weak element is a cheesy-sounding synth axe.
Another fine cut is "Born a Man," which takes its cues from Johnny Cash in both sound and narrative. "I was born in a bar fight, and at birth I killed a man / I was born running, always on the lam," Flinn sings with a surly twang.
It's hard to say if this album will find an audience outside Vermont. But Flinn clearly enjoys his vocation, and Giving Up the Ghost proves that hard work is its own reward.