Eventually, it seems, every bit player, even the essential ones, is going to want to go it alone. It’s understandable — after playing second fiddle for a few years, who wouldn’t want to step into the limelight? — and sometimes it works out well (see Final Fantasy, the Band). But record-store dollar bins are littered with albums by guys who thought they could lead their own bands. Such is the case with Sean Flinn: the role of frontman just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
Flinn’s claim to semi-fame is that he’s backed up the darlingly folksy Jolie Holland and performs with her as part of Jolie Holland and the Hunting Party, but he’s also a Portland everyman who’s recorded with Herman Dune and been in countless groups, including a jazz quintet. Plus, he’s classically trained in composition and guitar. His solo material, unfortunately, is rather lacking. His singing comes across too plainspoken, and most songs, while fundamentally not bad, lack a certain spark of verve. His lyrics and melodies aren’t awful, really, just boring. Some moments and chord progressions seem pretty, but all too often they become muddied with an awkward line or key change that ruins the moment. Take “Salt That’s In Our Blood,” which is a perfectly pleasant, gently rambling tune with a guitar line that sounds like the Cranberries’ “Dreams.” It’s a fine enough track, but in 2010 the Cranberries shouldn’t really be a song’s main point of reference.
Maybe it’s also a result of his hometown. White-guys-with-guitars music in Portland can all too easily lose sight of the line that separates indie rock from adult contemporary, and they end up playing to audiences who think Wilco is a little too edgy. And though Write Me A Novel is mainly Flinn’s branchild, it also features a crew of local Portland folks. In some ways it takes the essence of his neighbor M. Ward, just slightly less enjoyable.
Which is just to say, at this point, it doesn’t seem like leading his own band is in Sean Flinn’s destiny. He probably plays his instruments superbly, but, unfortunately, his album isn’t very fun to listen to. Luckily, he also plays in, among other projects, Y La Bamba, an up-and-coming Portland group that sounds like the bastard step-child of Grizzly Bear and Caetano Veloso. So he’s not totally wedded to being the main man.
Stream/Download “Patient Heart: http://seanflinn.bandcamp.com/track/patient-heart