Mailbag: Elisa Flynn – 19th Century Songs
Before beginning, I have to confess that I have been criminally negligent with Elisa Flynn’s 19th Century Songs. Elisa e-mailed me a rather long time ago to tell me about the album’s release on Bandcamp, and – despite my thorough enjoyment of the album – I always seemed to forget I had it when I sat down to throw together a post. And so, for that, I’m sorry!
But I am also sorry to you, reader, for keeping such an exciting recording all to myself! Here’s the scoop:
Elisa Flynn is a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn who writes songs that walk a fine line between beauty and danger. They treat on topics like the serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes, William Tecumseh Sherman, and a ship held fast in the ice. It’s an impressive collection of concepts and images that all, rather surprisingly, create a wonderfully immersive recording. Let’s have a look:
As I mentioned, the song “Close Your Eyes” is a rather curious one. Elisa writes:
I’m kind of partial to “Close Your Eyes,” which is based on the book “Devil in the White City,” by Erik Larsen, about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (it’s a fantastic book, by the way, if you haven’t read it). I loved the contrast of the two stories of the creation of fairgrounds, the building of this complete fantasy world in very little time, and the secondary story of the serial killer (Dr. H.H. Holmes) who lured victims into the World’s Fair Hotel. The song is mostly about him.
It’s a startling opening track, and one in which it is readily apparent that we are dealing with a songwriter who has a rich love of literature and narrative nuance. Elisa’s ability to weave together complex musical textures and lyrical narrative also shines on “Eliza Donner” – which seems to reference a survivor of the infamous Donner Party. It’s a fascinating song, and a take on the story that could only come from someone willing to see past headlines and into the hearts of those who have come before us. Indeed, that might well be the overall theme of 19th Century Songs, and the reason for the album’s profound beauty.
My personal favorite, which you can hear below, is the hauntingly beautiful “Fram.” The tale of a sailor trapped out in the ice, which seems to recall Scott’s Antarctic voyage, even as the story revolves around a lone, lost sailor. It’s a beautiful track, and Flynn’s voice is both soaring and captivating.
And here’s a live performance of “Close Your Eyes:”
And if that’s not enough, you can hear more of Elisa’s music here.