Dylan Blackthorn – small flames
“Played by the Numbers” begins Dylan Blackthorn’s thirteen cut studio outing small flames. The Austin based singer/songwriter sets the stage for this track and everything that follows with a dramatic flourish. The prominence of accordion is unusual, it rarely assumes such a lead role with any act, but Blackthorn uses it to great effect time after time during the release. “Candlelight” spotlights the album’s sole guest vocalist, Nyra Song, and her singing blends well with the luxurious musical accompaniment. It’s probably the smoothest arrangement included on this release and the seamless transitions from one passage to the next and lacks any rough edges. It is eminently soulful, as well, thanks to the emotional depth of Nyra Song’s singing. It is 180 degree stylistic turn from the album’s first track, yet fits in well on this release.
“Ten of Wands” brings new wrinkles into play. There’s some cracking lead guitar work attached to this arrangement and, as a result, the accordion takes a backseat during this song. His personal interests rise to the surface here; the title is a specific Tarot card but Blackthorn nevertheless makes the imagery accessible for listeners. I am a great admirer, as well, of the next track “Silver Halo Blues”. The subject matter is offbeat, but Blackthorn’s talents are considerable enough to polish even potentially unruly subjects into lyrics anyone can connect with while the drumming maintains an effective balance between dramatics and setting the appropriate pace for this piece.
It is refreshing to discover a songwriter with poetic ambitions who does not manifest such aims in ham-fisted fashion. “Rule of Three” structures its lyric around the traditional blues style, repeating the same line with minor variations before wrapping up each verse with a third payoff line. Despite the relatively simplistic design of the verses, Blackthorn fills the lyric with precise lyrical imagery that fires listener’s imaginations. “The Reindeer Waltz”, despite the unusual time signature for popular music, has enormous appeal. I like how Blackthorn and his collaborators weave a seamless instrumental tapestry without ever straining for the results they seek. It’s, likewise, one of the album’s finest lyrics.
“Mystic Balloon Quest” is one of the album’s two instrumental performances and proves we don’t need Blackthorn’s vocal presence for his songwriting to be successful. “Folk Magick” is another track touching on Blackthorn’s personal interests without lapsing into complete obscurity and distinguished musical contributions abound. The drumming, in particular, gives the arrangement an authoritative tone. Blackthorn brings down the final curtain with the closing track “Starry Secrets” and it makes for a spectacular ending thanks, in a big way, to its extended setup. It also puts the full gamut of small flames’ musical ingredients into play through one track and never risks sounding cluttered or weighed down with fat. Dylan Blackthorn’s solo debut is one of the most memorable singer/songwriter releases in recent memory and never tests a listener’s patience a single time. Instead, it bristles and crackles with creativity from the outset with little apparent effort.