Album Review: Flash in a Pan — ‘Folklore’

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Mission Creek Festival: The Big Free Show — Lilly Hiatt w/ Middle Western, Becca Mancari, Mercy Bell, Jonathan Timm Band, Flash In a Pan

Big Grove Brewery — Saturday, April 6 at 2 p.m.

Back in 2012, an Iowa City-based string band named themselves Flash in a Pan in the belief that they would play two shows and dissolve quietly into the night. Those two shows were seven years ago now, and 2018 saw the band release their second full-length album in as many years.

Last year’s Folklore is an 11-song reckoning with a string band unafraid of tradition but still bellying up to the future. The band (made up of guitarist Blake Daly, bassist Lee Eckles, banjoist Alex Flesher and mandolin player Max Lipnick) are joined by plenty of visiting faces on this record, much like their live shows. And it’s evident in the music: the collective presents themselves as new neighbors, not from out of state but from just across town.

“Sunny In the Water” is without question Folklore’s standout track. Graced with guest Elizabeth Moen’s ethereal prairie voice, the tune comes off like a postcard lost in the bottom of the mail carrier’s bag or an email trapped in the spam filter: always longing, even among company. Lipnick’s mandolin provides the ripples in the water, and Dale Thomas’ pedal steel provides the reflection.

Cuts like “Trackin’ Me” and “Wait Wait (Ring Ring)” are both odes to 21st-century confusion and fear, from wondering about the use of our cell phone data to waiting on the mailman to show up.

“On The Run” is a bit of cowboy balladry befitting a Marty Robbins tribute record, complete with half a verse sung in Spanish.

There are notions here of John Hartford on “Her Land”; “Fighter/Love” could be a lost track from the Avett Brothers’ I and Love and You; “Rolling Jubilee” owes some of its driving melody to Railroad Earth’s best train songs. These comparisons aren’t meant to diminish the work Flash in a Pan has done here, but rather to place them on the shelf among their influences. What they have done is create a record and a sound best described as modern string music from along the Iowa River.

Folklore will have you asking the same question I did: “Why did it take me a year to hear this?”

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 260.

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