Mick Flannery writes songs with fluency, expressing layered aspects of the human condition, its flaws, triumphs, and general uncertainty. Mick’s latest offering — Goodtime Charlie, marks his eighth studio album and is no exception.
The last couple of years saw the release of an album inspired by the world’s most famous chess matches, and a duet album with Susan O’Neill that blossomed into In The Game- the biggest selling Irish independent album of 2021. Now, a new collection of songs that summon up characters and scenes and give voice to emotions that have transformed into the album — Goodtime Charlie.
Covid had thrown the pieces in the air, but Mick was going with the flow, trying things, taking part in online writing sessions, recording duets, and developing ideas he hadn’t had time for before. “Time wasn’t exactly at a premium,” as he said.
Goodtime Charlie, had already made its first tentative steps. Give Me Up had been written pre covid in Los Angeles with producer Tony Buchen and Australian musician, producer and songwriter Justin Stanley. OK LA (“a love letter to a dead dream”) had been written in Nashville with writer Adam Landry.
“I started doing these weekly online collaborations with Ana Egge and it was great. We have similar likes and dislikes when it comes to music and lyrics,’ Mick recalls. Egge has been writing songs since she was a child, has an astonishing back catalog and has shared stages with artists like Shawn Colvin and Iris Dement. Three of the collaborations made it onto the album.
Beginning with Neon Tonight (“about a band waiting to go onstage, feeling nervous and excited”), Machine (“a song about an emotionally distant mechanic, who just loves driving, wondering why people lead such complicated lives.”) and finally, Someone to Tell it To (“a song about a journey and the gratitude of having someone traveling with you”).
Another Zoom collaboration came via rising star, singer and songwriter, Tianna Esperenza, the granddaughter of Punk royalty Palmolive from The Slits. “Tianna had her part already for Old Friend, and I just kind of wrote around that to create a response part.”
Then there’s Andrew House, with whom Mick shares the Christy Skulls side project, contributing ideas that became Push the Cart. “He sends me stuff all the time, this one just worked really well”
Songs like Young, “one of the ideas is that we don’t really have free will. You aren’t the author of your own thoughts. Also I was taken by an interview of Tupac Shakur’s, which appears on a Kendrick Lamar album- to pick your fights when you’re young, when you have the energy.” The choruses are about a willingness to fight and where it comes from.
One song, The Fact, was presenting an issue. “My sister felt it didn’t make sense with just one narrator. It needed a second viewpoint.” That viewpoint was to come in the shape of Valerie June, an American singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Memphis, TN.
Minnesota had presented a similar issue. Inspired by a person’s relationship to the state/country in which they live. In this case it’s the voice of an American woman who has grown from seeing the state as a parent to her, into seeing herself as a guardian to it, and the contradictions and calls to action this entails. Anaïs Mitchell provided that voice. As she said at the time; “I would sing any song Mick asked.”
Consequently Goodtime Charlie has more collaborative songwriting on it than any previous records. “It sparks you out of your comfort zone,” Mick says, “It opens up new perspectives, you wonder ‘how would someone else do this?’ The result is the best album of Mick’s already stellar career. Whatever the other voices add, whether on the record or in the writing, it creates a suite of songs that twist and turn surprise and engage like no others in his career.
“It’s more fun too,” Mick notes, “I don’t take myself as seriously as I did when I was 20. Back then, you’re all about yourself. I’m open to more fun now, trying things, hence, Goodtime Charlie.”
The song ‘Goodtime Charlie’ the albums namesake, is ‘Not a very serious song’ Mick says; “ about a gambler who is liable to do anything at any time, as long as it’s a goodtime.” It however, sets the tone for a game of two halves on this record, accompanied by ‘What They Say’, ‘Morning Rain, the aforementioned ‘Give Me Up’ and ‘Neon Tonight’ lend to a free-spirited, 70’s feels, a nod to the The Band and Van Morrison of the era. There is a nostalgia weaved through these songs that juxtapose the deep and soulful ballads that make up the other half of this epic piece of work.
Goodtime Charlie was recorded in Cork with old friend, drummer and producer Christian Best and features long time musical companions Alan Comerford on guitar and Mikey O’Connell on bass. “They were sympathetic” says Mick, “It’s intuitive with them, they know me, we know each other.” It’s people who are used to playing together, have put in the hard yards together, shared stages, buses, dreams. With a song writer who knows his trade, better than ever before.
But best of all, is that right now, with these songs – you feel that it has only just begun.