Album Review: Lannie Flowers – New Songs, Old Stories

Lannie Flowers‘ vocal style is occasionally reminiscent of John Lennon, and the slide guitar fills he often employs are from the George Harrison school. The Dallas/Fort Worth guitarist is the composer of preternaturally strong, hook-laden pop songs that have equal parts muscle and melody. If there’s a single criticism of his work, it’s that he often – no, always – employs some sort of gimmick on his albums. Each record has some sort of overarching concept that sets it apart from everything else that’s out there, whether on the powerpop landscape or in the wider rock/pop marketplace.

But guess what: his concepts — gimmicks if you must – are well thought out, and they exist to further Flowers’ musical goals. His second album, Circles, was released on CD, digital, and vinyl. But these days, especially for indie pop artists, the vinyl angle isn’t so much of a gimmick. But what made Circles so remarkable (on its surface) is that Flowers issued it in both stereo and monaural formats.

Yet that wasn’t the most distinctive characteristic of the album, not by a long shot. As Circles amply displays, Lannie Flowers is a master of the bridge, or to use Lennon and Paul McCartney‘s term, the middle eight. There are no less than four – many more by some counts – amazingly memorable anthem-scale pop songs on Circles. (Read my review of Circles here.)

But the title track of that sophomore release had appeared in abbreviated form, which takes us back to Flowers’ debut album, 2008’s Same Old Story. Filled to the brim with winning pop tunes, Same Old Story had a gimmick of its own: it was a suite of interconnected songs. Songlets might be a better term; the album strung together thirty-six(!) brief songs. The album blows by quickly; it’s an embarrassment of riches.

So now in 2012, Flowers brings us his third album. And what’s the angle this time around, you ask? Well, even though on Circles Flowers displayed his ability to take pop songs to the next level by writing a bunch of great middle eights (a task that’s the downfall of many an otherwise capable songwriter), those songlets on the first record often had none. There simply wasn’t room within the format; the songs were, by design, underdeveloped.

By now I’ve likely telegraphed Lannie Flowers’ approach on his latest release. Titled (appropriately enough) New Songs, Old Stories, his latest takes nine of the ten strongest songs from Same Old Stories and fleshes them out to full length. (As previously mentioned, a full length version of the song “Circles” served as the title track of LP number two.)

Now, by “full length” I’m not describing prog epics; the nine songs on New Songs, Old Stories average under three minutes each, and the longest is still under the four-minute mark. If you’ve heard Flowers’ music before, you won’t find anything radically different, but then the format all but prohibits moving too far from the sonic approach of his earlier records. And why tinker needlessly with an effective approach?

There are some differences beyond the expansion of the songs. Where the debut was recorded with Flowers playing everything but drums, on the new record he uses a short list of other musicians. Drummer Mark Herson returns, but as always, all of the voices you’ll hear belong to Lannie Flowers; his overdubbed harmonies are a key part of his successful recipe.

The full band approach dials back the jangle just a bit, replacing it with a harder edge; “Another Weekend” was a catchy songlet before, but in its lengthier guise, it’s a full-blown Who-like rocker, ever so slightly reminiscent of their Live at Leeds version of Eddie Cochran‘s “Summertime Blues.” The track “You, Yeah You” crosses Rubber Soul era George Harrison with The Searchers, and adds a touch of early Tom Petty for good, twangy measure. And just like on his earlier two albums, the catchy songs keep coming, like some musical conveyor belt with the highest Quality Control personnel making sure no duds make it through to your ears.

One could argue that with songs, playing, arrangement, singing and production as first-class as Flowers’, there’s no need for these conceptual constructs. But if that’s his bag, he’s welcome to it. Just so long, that is, as he keeps the music coming.

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