I confess unfamiliarity with Dylan Blackthorn until now. His thirteen-track album release small flames is a sparkling example of the best songwriting on the indie scene today. I believe you write and record a gem when you relax and allow the songs come to you rather than exerting too much muscle in a self-conscious attempt to create a masterpiece. The Austin, Texas based Blackthorn sounds confident throughout the entirety of the release, but it isn’t hollow bravado. It is the natural by-product of a musical artist who has worked years to perfect his craft as much as possible. His hard work and obvious talents pay off in a big way throughout the whole of small flames and I believe, with some lucky breaks and the right amount of promotion, Dylan Blackthorn’s music will find a wide-ranging and substantial audience. 

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“Played by the Numbers” gripped me seconds in and never let go. It begins with a dramatic wind up before launching into a mid-tempo drunken wobble. The mid-tempo pace, however, doesn’t dim its energy – “Played by the Numbers”, once it gets going, chugs along with the harmonica and accordion carrying the melody. “Stoked” is a stark shift in gears. Blackthorn takes this cut in a near honkytonk direction. The country influence is structural rather than instrumental and Blackthorn successfully conjures Nashville inspired echoes without ever sounding like a crude imitation. 

“Ten of Wands” is another punchy effort Blackthorn recorded for this release. It is natural, perhaps, that a song with a title such as this relies on its lyrical imagery. I credit Blackthorn, however, with never lapsing into clumsy attempts at near-poetry; instead, I believe these words contain such precision and command of the language they could create their own music on the printed page. “Silver Halo Blues” is another exceptional marriage of Blackthorn’s writing and musical acumen. He clearly benefits from surrounding himself with first class creative partners, but it is equally apparent that Blackthorn’s creativity is the burning heart of this project. There is an outstanding accordion solo packed into this cut as well; despite the central standing of Blackthorn throughout this project, it is clear these songs are built for full band performances.

“Mystic Balloon Quest” is one of two instrumentals included on this release. The warm sway of the musical arrangement carries listeners away without ever sounding hokey or forced. I am fond of the melody Blackthorn concocts for this track and the subtle variations emerging along the way. The second instrumental “Bessarabian Traffic Jam” does have some vocals, but they are wordless and, once again, the melodic strengths are more than enough to put this track over the top. “Gray Memories” is the second to last track and I admit, attempting to draw parallels to older artists and possible influences, I hear a lot of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, circa Henry’s Dream, in Blackthorn’s songwriting. The slow unraveling of its melody draws you in, but his performances possess a gravity lacking in lesser talents. This is a great release from beginning to end. 

Garth Thomas