Murray Flint – The Journey (2010)

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by Nick DeRiso

An album about dreams reclaimed, Murray Flint’s The Journey traces his own road back from painfully debilitating tendonitis.

After nearly a decade away from the guitar, the Olympia, Wash., resident discovered a finger-style approach long associated with Merle Travis. This technique simultaneously sounds more complex, since the performer also includes bass and rhythm signatures, but also creates fewer pressure points: Flint performs with only the tips of his fingers.

No surprise, then, that Flint’s love of the instrument pushes out with the wild abandon of a spring morning on The Journey, beginning with a rush of emotion on “The Matrix.” Cascading, propulsive runs boldly illustrate Flint’s own joy of rediscovery.

“Breeze Blues” then combines the thoughtful precision of Jim Hall, a distant lo-fi Sun Records echo, and the breathless pauses of Miles Davis’ 1950s modal period. Flint isn’t long for any William Ackerman-inspired atmospherics, though. He’s got too much ground to cover, after such a lengthy time away.

He next dives head-long into a name-drop tribute to his new hero with “Travis Pickin.” But the forward-thinking testimonial also includes notable flourishes of later virtuosos like Travis-acolyte Chet Atkins and gypsy-genius Django Reinhart.

Better still is “The Bohemian.” Riffy and complex, this song most closely recalls the clip-clop, metronome-like bass lines associated with Travis’ now- legendary thumb. Flint skitters over the higher strings to thrilling effect, even while the bottom of the song lopes along like the opening moments of an old Western.

Flint’s dusty boots never hit the ground, though. He keeps going, ever onward. “Highway Pickin” begins with a contemplative opening that belies the soaring country hoedown just over the next horizon.

He is perhaps at his most expressive in quieter moments, like the sweetly memorable “Penelope,” named after a granddaughter.

Then there’s “Mystic Morning.” In a move befitting the title, Flint finds a rhythmic mantra and follows these concentric revelations with heart-felt abandon. Lush, and hypnotically gorgeous, the song is played with the tenderness of rainwater hitting fallen leaves.

That’s The Journey at its best, zooming past high-stepping ragtime, sizzling-hot blues, roof-raising gospel, honky-tonk country and hip-shaking jazz like sign posts in a wide-open space.

Sometimes, Flint sounds like something older still. There are melancholy, cello-like phrasings, reminiscent of Andres Segovia. You also hear the feline romanticism of Old World instruments like the lute and vihuela, distant cousins of the guitar from which the finger-style technique emerged.

Unfortunately, Flint’s catchy exuberance doesn’t always lead to extended thoughts, and The Journey can sometimes come off as the work of a fast-moving dilettante. With just 8 songs, Flint’s CD clocks in at a tantalizingly brief 21 minutes. Much of his work here fades out – and “Mystic Morning” also fades in – underscoring the sense that there was much more to be heard from this intriguing new voice.

That’s what makes this album’s title track, also its longest, such a triumph. “The Journey” follows the winding course of existence – from angular moments of first-step discovery, through to the ebb and flow of life’s middle period and finally to a kind of beatific sense of understanding.

Flint fully focuses on an intricate story arc, displaying a particularly direct sensitivity. It is indeed a journey, both musical and emotional.

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