Recorded at Satellite Studio in San Diego, Waiting on a Miracle is the latest release by Tim Flannery and the Lunatic Fringe. The musicians are Chris Grant on drums; Shawn Rohlf on bass, mandolin, and banjo; Doug Pettibone on guitars; Josh Weinstein on keys; Tim Flannery on vocals and acoustic guitar; and Jeff Berkley, who recorded and produced the album, also contributes guitars and backing vocals.
This is a comfortable listen, it’s clean and positive; it builds bridges or at least helps to keep them standing. Fitting easily into the Americana genre, it has roots in Appalachia and Ireland, outlaw country, and the Cherokee heritage of Flannery’s grandmother. Nothing about this album is too much or overdone; everything has purpose, and it fits in with the theme that unfolds with each track. Between the songs penned by Flannery and the ones he chose to cover from other artists, I can hear transformation. He knows who he is and where he’s come from. He sings with depth from a place of vulnerability and honesty, and I believe him. He doesn’t sound like anyone else and I want to know this character.
“Last Man Standing” opens with acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin that take me to some small town and a rustic front porch at sunset, where they tell me stories long before the vocals come in. When the drums begin at :40 I feel the dance; it’s primal and old, and full of life. Flannery is singing about forever and how it stretches back through the past, through family lines, and into the future. He sings it with stubborn resolve, and he is still standing.
On “This Kind of Love” by William Miller and Jonathan Vezner, the organ starts off rolling smooth and sounding vintage, a solid invitation to listen. When the verse begins, the arrangement is uncomplicated and open with light guitar, bass, and drums. Electric guitar comes in on the second verse in a circular pattern of notes with the organ deep underneath. Backing vocals beautifully add to Flannery’s declarations of love in the chorus, followed by a fill from the organ that leads into the next verse. The magic really sets in at 1:44 with a moving call and response of lyric lines, “You found a way through all my secrets and made my proud defenses fall…” It makes me cry every time. The effects on the answering voice are distorted, making it sound like a message from the subconscious, something the universe already knows and is making sure I get it. Believe me, I get it.
Spare acoustic guitar on the intro to the title track, “Waiting on a Miracle,” is followed by bold yet subtle drums rumbling in at :36, conveying desperation. The chorus brightens the tone as backing vocals join Flannery, blending beautifully in a hopeful expression, as he sings, “Darkness got no hold on me, when I’m waitin’ on a miracle.” Pedal steel and guitar come together in a dreamy duo at 2:37, so sweet it makes me swoon.
“Hold the Line on the Horizon” opens big with drums and cymbals, keys, guitars, and bass, then vocals with harmonies. It calls me to action, it inspires me to stand together with loved ones, and to hold on to “memories and treasures of a lifetime,” the essentials we can’t live without. It’s telling me that life is about more than the stuff. We hear a melodic guitar solo at 1:09 that enhances the song’s march and upbeat drive, bringing it to the bridge. Up to now, the song has been focused inward; with the final verse it becomes bigger, universal, and more profound. “Come on, girl, we got enough…” This is an anthem of determination and optimism.
“Falling Stars and Thunderstorms” begins with acoustic guitar that gently flows into pedal steel for the chorus and continues behind the second verse. Flannery is on a journey of gratitude as he sings of country guitar pickers, teachers on the highway, those who sing like angels, all that was medicine to heal his pain. Harmonies are added at the second chorus, and, along with the mandolin, you think it’s emotional perfection. “I write it all down to get it off my chest…” But then at 2:05 there is a guitar solo that has me tearfully shaking my head, followed by pedal steel rising and falling in ways that just couldn’t be sweeter. Mandolin features prominently through the last verse and chorus, and the song ends with the same line that opened it.
“Compass” starts with acoustic guitar laying down a somewhat droning foundation. Flannery’s voice is sure and steady, and rings out clear and definitive. Pedal steel rises at :35, followed immediately by electric guitar with an edgy tag that repeats and drops in between lines. Then it’s on to the next verse where they subtly push and pull against the heaviness of the toms just under the vocal. At 2:05 we hear a haunting guitar solo, with long and lonesome drawn-out notes in keeping with the already somber mood as Flannery sings, “Does the compass that you carry, get you lost or lead you home?” I love that line. The intensity builds at 3:06 as the toms and bass become more prominent, along with the pedal steel, which eventually draws it all in to close the song. This is one of my favorites.
Others included among the ten songs and 39 minutes are: Flannery’s “Time Changes Everything,” “River of Time” by William Miller and Robert Corbin, “Ft. Worth Blues” by Steve Earle, and “The Last Song” by Jerry Jeff Walker.
More than once while listening to this album, I found myself on the verge of tears or suddenly catching my breath from the beauty and adventure of it, the boldness, and the conviction. Do yourself a favor and have a listen; it’s out and available now everywhere.