To call Another World by the Flat Five a subversive record at first seems to be a ridiculous notion. This is one of the smoothest discs imaginable from a band that has trouble finding the time to record because of all their other obligations. Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan spend their days recording and touring with a who’s who of the music business (The Decemberists, Neko Case, Andrew Bird, Mavis Staples, Iron & Wine and Jakob Dylan). Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough are both members of the current NRBQ, and Alex Hall works with JD McPherson and Cactus Blossoms. Yet behind all the sweet sounds and cheery tunes (written by Chris Ligon, Scott’s brother) are lyrics that cut like a knife.

Melancholy goes right to the heart of “The Great State of Texas.” A slow piano waltz, the song unfolds with lasts instead of firsts: “Had my last cup of coffee/ My last piece of pie,” before going on to recount, “Heard my last Beatle record/ The one Ringo sang.” Finally, the kicker is, “But it kills me to know/ I won’t see you again.” As the track unfolds ever so slowly, you finally come to the realization that “The Great State of Texas” is actually about a prisoner on death row, and the end is nigh.

Bass, drums and keyboard form the smooth framework for “Drip a Drop,” while Ligon’s lyrics offer something slightly different, “I like to taste sugar cake in the morning/ I feel so good when I walk out the door/ America we’re giving you a warning/ We’re making love not no stinkin’ civil war.” This is a song that’s just slightly off-kilter, talking about a young child who has some amazing abilities, “On his behind you can set a glass of water/ He hully-gullys and don’t ever drip a drop.

The Flat Five finds ways to take listeners on a musical trip unlike any other band. “Butterflies Don’t Bite” sounds like an old Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass number, especially Scott Ligon’s trumpet solo. Vocal harmonies are a key throughout, and not without reason, as Ligon explains, “We have lost the importance of what singing harmony with other human beings means. It’s something that is really important in society, a good example of people working together to create something beautiful. Now that I have this with these friends of mine, I can’t live without it.”

Nowhere are those harmonies more on display than on “Over and Out,” where the gentlemen start the song before O’Connor and Hogan take over singing, “No more hateful TV/ No more hateful texting/ No more hateful Donald Duck.” But one can only wonder if that’s really the Donald that Chris Ligon is referring to in the song. Meanwhile, a chorus of trumpets sets the piece on a course to a different world.

The Flat Five have a remarkable ability to crystalize the music of the past 50 or 60 years. They take the sounds of the past and synthesize them in exceptional ways while creating a sense of harmony between their five voices. Spanning generations and eras, they have developed an ear for detail that is unique. Another World is truly something special, the kind of recording that you didn’t realize you needed, but once you hear it, you can’t live without. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another four years for them to release their next one.

Five pros find the time to record a MOR gem.
75 %
Smooth yet sassy

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