A Moveable Feast
If you are lucky enough to have heard Mel Flannery in a good venue, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, her song will stay with you, for Mel Flannery is a moveable feast.
A rising talent on the New York City indy music scene, she writes her own songs and covers an eclectic range of American pop and jazz classics. But the real feast is her voice. It's all velvet and gold, while the girl herself is a tow-headed youth who looks barely old enough to drink in the bars where she sings. What's surprising is her range. Creamy and husky on low end, she can suddenly soar like an angel in the high register, yet still retain the same depth and warmth.
A powerful example of how Mel can transform a song is "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo," a tune from the movie "Lili." Made in 1953, this classic starred Leslie Caron as Lili, a teenaged na•f who finds refuge with a traveling circus when her father dies and leaves her destitute. In the movie the song is a sweet little ditty Caron sings with a puppet. Mel's version, which was arranged by Seth Fruiterman, a colleague of hers from the Manhattan School of Music, brings out this ditty's torch-song soul. The way Mel sings it will make you sigh for lost youth and unrequited love. It's gorgeously sweet and sad, yet both the arrangement and interpretation remain true to the simple beauty of the original ditty. Says Mel, "I love to sing 'Lili' because of its bittersweet simplicity. It's very economic in the sense that the melody and the words with the modest accompaniment say all you need to know."
But Mel's repertoire and musical interests go far beyond simple songs. Since high school back in her hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, she has carried on a love affair with atonal music, a form that breaks away from traditional harmony. It's the kind of thing you'll never hear piped over the speakers at your local supermarket. In her first competitive solo, Mel sang "I Hate Music," an atonal piece by Leonard Bernstein. Despite a lot of skepticism, she took first prize. "I love atonal music because it's such a juxtaposition of raw and refined. Some people think that you have to know about music to understand it, but I think exactly the opposite. Dissonance and tension are the guts of music."
Her craft and technique as well as talent earned her a scholarship to attend the prestigious Vocal Jazz Performance Program at the Manhattan School of Music. Young singers from across the nation audition, but only handful gain acceptance. Mel's freshman class numbered a grand total of three. By her sophomore year, it was down to Mel and one other.
As a bona fide "indy," Mel writes her own songs, of course. Her signature piece is a haunting number called "You Love Me." In it, she plays the obsessed woman singing to a lover who won't cooperate with her obsession. It also happens to be the favorite song of Mel's father, a guitarist and a big influence in Mel's life and music. Raised in the northern woods of Wisconsin, he studied guitar under country music great Chet Atkins. "My father's country and rock repertoire is formidable," says Mel, who started her career accompanying him. "My Dad and I gigged at coffee shops and any place that asked us nicely enough. We never practiced except for the ten minutes before we'd leave for the gig."
Mel appears with her band, the Mel Flannery Trucking Company, at indy venues in and around town. "The Boys," as she calls them, include Lee Pardini on keyboard, Jesse Lewis on guitar, Matt Aronoff on upright bass, and Rohin Khemani on drums. All accomplished musicians in their own right, this four-piece ensemble produces a big sound and some very exciting improvisational solos.
You can feast on Mel and the Boys at the Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower Eastside (www.rockwoodmusichall.com) on Saturday, January 14th at 11:00 p.m., and at The Bitter End (www.bitterend.com) in New York's Greenwich Village on Wednesday, January 25th at 8:00 p.m.
To join her mailing list and get the latest appearance information and news about her upcoming album, "Mel Flannery Trucking Company," visit her Website: www.melflannery.com.
You can also experience this moveable feast of a singer for yourself right now. Click on the "music" link to download some high quality MP3s. Be sure to listen on headphones or good speakers, not those tinny PC speakers. And absolutely be sure to download "Lili." Only twenty-one, Mel has a long career ahead of her; one that promises many more "Lilis" that will reach into our hearts and touch our souls.