The Melodic: Young Guns of Brixton

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It’s kind of funny, because I first stumbled across the fabulous English folksinger Johnny Flynn when I randomly picked his debut album out of the free pile of CDs overlooked for review, and then found myself listening to it again and again. Now, thanks to Flynn, I’ve been turned on to The Melodic, a young Brixton band whose debut LP, Effra Parade, came out in November. Here’s “Runaway.”

I caught these guys opening for Flynn last week at San Francisco’s cozy Rickshaw Stop, the final stop of their mutual American tour. The sold-out crowd showed up for Flynn, but gave The Melodic its full attention and was rewarded with a set of richly layered, harmony-laden, often upbeat, evocative music that their label, Anti-, bills as afro-folk-pop—categories, categories. Still, that’s pretty apt. There are definitely African and Caribbean/Jamaican rhythmic and melodic influences, and perhaps a dose of the 1960s folk in which some of the band members immersed themselves at various points. They’ve also got some atypical instrumentation—Effra Parade employs 18 instruments, including the Charango, a 10-stringed Andean devil.

Before the show, I met Rudi Schmidt, whose father produced music for Jah Wobble and the Specials’ Jerry Dammers, and who grew up surrounded by music and musicians and unusual instruments. He was turned onto the Charango (not to mention the melodica, another arrow in the band’s quiver) by a Chilean pal, and then traveled to Bolivia to study with Charango master Ernesto Cavour, eventually even touring with the country’s national orchestra and the La Paz Folk Ballet.

Johnny Flynn

Now the kid can really jam on the thing, and does wonderful point-counterpoint leads with singer/guitarist Huw Williams, who knows his way around an acoustic. Williams alternates lead and harmony vocals with Lydia Samuels, who also plays autoharp and melodica and had the crowd rapt after her gorgeous cover of a song by….Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have had that second pint. But if you ask her, maybe she’ll sing it for you again.

Flynn appeared for a fiddle cameo, introduced by the Melodic as some violinist they met on the street. He later returned to the stage for a strong solo set of favorites from his three full-lengths, A Larum, Been Listening, and his most recent, Country Mile. As usual, his crowd was smitten. “Where have you been all my life?” one woman shouted between songs.

Flynn smiled, and continued tuning his resonator guitar. “Around,” he said. (Slick.)

So be sure and look out for all of the above the next time they’re “around.” I can’t speak for Mr. Flynn, but The Melodic plans to be back in America soon on a tour with Tinariwen, yet another wandering band worth checking out.

Here’s “Ode to Victor Jara”:

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