Saturday, July 08, 2006

John Flynn's Two Wolves Doesn't Run With the Pack
Two Wolves, at least on first listen, is an album laced with an almost child-like sense of innocence in its social commentary. This should come as no surprise, considering John Flynn is perhaps best known for his Love Takes a Whole Box of Crayons and his award-winning work in childrens music. In spite of that, or more likely, because of that, Two Wolves is at its heart a work about family and its relation to a world numbed by violence and inequity.
Like the great folk singers before him, Flynn lures the listener into his world with an easygoing accoustic sound that belies the message of his lyrics. On "Dover," for instance, the music soars with a patriotic swirl while the lyrics personalize the sacrifice of soldiers who do not come home alive and the loved ones they leave behind. "Blink" takes a different tact in its Don McLean-esque structure and its sentimental look at enduring love . The album's title track could almost work on one of Flynn's children's albums as a simple parable about the choices we make in life and how they shape us.
None of that is meant to imply that the music on Two Wolves is maudlin but harmless-- far from it. Folk music has always been quietly dangerous-- from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Phil Ochs--and John Flynn's musings are no exception. Never politically overt, Flynn's lyrics nonetheless reflect the angst that is inherent in our collective mindset while maintaining a cautious optimism for the future. "There's No Them There" recognizes divisiveness ("races, creed and nations/are false separations") while steadfastly clinging to unity ("The colors of the rainbow/blend together and show/how we can blend also.") Likewise,"My Father's Chapel" celebrates the commonalities of the world's religions rather than dwell on their differences.
Nor is he afraid to tackle issues head-on. Throughout the course of Two Wolves, Flynn speaks with directness and eloquence as witnessed by "Put Your Freedom Where Your Mouth is." He reminds us in no uncertain terms that flexing our military might across the globe entails a responsibility to equally flex our social responsibility here as well as abroad. ("Put your freedom where your mouth is/In a land of liberty/He's for freedom and he'll shout his/cause no silenced man is free.")
Two Wolves is unlikely to be a chart-topper, and John Flynn probably won't be on VH1 or CMT anytime soon. That's unimportant. What is important is Two Wolves keeps the spirit of folk roots activism alive in a society sledgehammered by soundbites. This is an album that not only pays homage to the protest song but quietly reinvents it as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ray,

Thanks again for the kind words with the disc. We have a big release party Wednesday night in Denton. I can't wait to see what you have to say!


UTD Mercury by Iris Kuo 8/22/05

Everything, he remembers, began in a small room with really loud music.

On a cold evening last January, Rich Williams and his friend and former Blue Hotel bandmate Jonny Mack readied themselves for a trip to Denton.

They loaded the bass guitar, two bass cabinets, an amp and a full drumset - about 500 pounds of equipment - into Mack's Honda Civic and drove off. Forty minutes later, Mack and Williams parked the car, sagging from its heavy load, in front of an ordinary house on McCormack Street. Kevin Layne and Alex Hastings were waiting inside with a full-sized piano and guitars.

Mack assembled his drum set, and Williams tuned his bass. In a cramped, smoke-filled room littered with beer bottles, a space heater and an ashtray full of cigarette butts, The Wishlist was born.

"It was like love at first sight," Mack recalled.
The approximately eight-month-old band features Kevin Layne on lead vocals and piano, Hastings on guitar, Williams on bass and Mack on drums. They compare their music to that of mainstream groups Coldplay and Keane.

However, The Wishlist also emphasizes their departure from the usual singer-songwriter-on-the-piano setup, such as Ben Folds or Elton John.

The band tours with an antique 300-pound electric grand piano that detaches into two pieces, the same used by U2.

"We hated the idea that so few bands had latched onto the idea of the piano being the main instrument and not just the accessory to a pretty song," Williams said.

"We do like to keep the rock 'n' roll aspect of it," Hasting added. "It's not just all pretty stuff."

Though Hastings and Layne played together previously and usually initiate the songwriting process, the band members say they work as a whole, from centerpiece piano to the background drums.

"It's not like a food triangle where Kevin's at the top and everything trickles down and I'm at the end," Mack said. "It's more like the Knights of the Round Table, we're all equal."

The band members, who are all in their early to late 20s, juggle both jobs and The Wishlist.

"The nice thing about being this age is that it's not a question of how to get the money, it's how we'll divide it up," Mack said.

Financing the $4,000 for their six-track demo, "Life's Design of the Mind," scheduled for release in September, wasn't necessarily a cakewalk, Layne said, quashing rumors of a roommate-turned-wealthy-benefactor.

"Yeah, I'm broke," the former Guitar Center manager said, adding he paid for most of his piano gear himself.

The Wishlist recorded their demo with Bowling for Soup producer Casey Diiorio. When the money ran out for Layne, he had to get creative.

One day, Diiorio's refrigerator broke. So Layne offered to trade him his old Kenmore for half a day of studio time.

"That was probably like, two vocal lines or something," Hastings said, laughing.

Though the band itself is still young, they say there's a sense of urgency in making it successful.

"Once you get over 30, you're too old to rock 'n' roll," Mack, 26, said.

Williams asserts their age is an asset in experience and maturity.

"Jon and I are super committed to trying to look cool, which is hard when you're this old," he laughed, a silver wedding band gleaming on his finger. "I'll buy something dorky and not realize it until the light's turned on."

Ambition sets The Wishlist apart, he added.

"When Kevin has an idea for how wants something to sound, he doesn't just a get a new patch for a keyboard like other guys would do, he gets a piano." Williams said. "We started dreaming big right away."


b. 07-02-81
from: Mabank, TX
currently resides in: Fort Worth, TX

* started play keys in church (where he met Alex Hastings)
* learned guitar from Alex Hastings
* didn't play piano much till the beginning of The Wishlist
* co-writes everything with Alex Hastings

Musical Influences: The Beatles, John Lennon, Oasis, Ben Folds, Ben Folds Five, Counting Crows, Bright Eyes, Coldplay, Travis, The Verve, Bob Dylan, Straw, Alex Hastings Other Musical Intrests: Ryan Adams, [DARYL], The Kinks, The Strokes, The Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Tom Petty, R.E.M., Johnny Cash
Live Gear: Yamaha CP70b (bought by Alex Hastings on e-bay from a guy in South Dakota), Fender Telecaster, Vox AC30
Studio Gear: some upright at Valve Studios, Gibson Dove (acoustic)
Previous Bands: King Fridae, Something Uncomfortable (both w/ Alex Hastings)


b. 01-24-84 Austin, TX
from: Mabank, TX
currently resides in: Denton, TX

* was born listening to The Beatles
* began playing guitar at age 9
* attended UNT for a couple years studying Radio/TV/Film

Musical Influences: The Beatles, Counting Crows, U2, Oasis, Ryan Adams, Tom Petty, Wilco, Kent, The Verve, Ben Folds, Ben Folds Five, Elliott Smith, Straw Other Musical Interests: Bob Dylan, The Kinks, The Vines, They Might Be Giants, Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., [DARYL], The Strokes, Radiohead, Coldplay, Travis, Van Morrison
Favorite Guitarists: George Harrison, The Edge, Noel Gallagher, Dan Vickrey
Live Gear -
Guitar: Fender Tele-Sonic
Amp: Fender 2x12 Deville
Pedals & Misc: Echoplex, Fulltone Fulldrive, Fulltone Soulbender, Z-Vex Super Duper, Z-Vex Fuzz Factory
gear used on Life's Desing of Mind -
Guitars: Gibson SG, Fender Jazzmaster, Guild something?
Amps: Vox AC30, Fender Twin, Silvertone something?


Rich Williams began his music adventure as a kid, playing acoustic guitar oldies on a garage sale Silvertone and picking out the theme song from Cats on his folks’ console piano. He began leading a youth band and playing bass at church in junior high, starting his first band ThRe3 CaR GaRagE, which operated from 1996-2001. There, he sang lead, learned to write, and developed the bass style he practices today.

In 2002, Rich left Lubbock, Texas for Dallas to join friend Jon Mack in The Blue Hotel. Married in 2002, Rich’s wife Johanna continues to support him as he plays with singer-songwriter Bob Guittard and weekly at Mesquite’s Renaissance Church. A founding member of The Wishlist, he has shared the stage with Blue October, Bowling for Soup, Chris Rice, and local favorites [DARYL] and the The Golden Falcons.

Taking one lesson each with Trip Wamsley and Gary Willis, Rich has played folk-rock to metal and church music to Britpop. His favorite bands include Pedro the Lion, The Killers, The Postal Service, Pearl Jam, and Switchfoot. In 2006 after Rich traded in his SVT Classic for a compact Ampeg Blue Diamond combo and plays an 83 P-Bass and a Jack Cassady hollowbody.

Rich studied theatre, recording, and communication, graduating in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He currently works as an accountant and is pursuing his MBA at The University of Texas at Dallas. Rich’s dad, Chuck, recently published a Route 66 travel guide called Eternal Route 66 . Rich and Johanna just bought an old house for their cats, and he publishes a MySpace comedy blog.