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Ireland’s Mick Flannery is finally getting a foothold in America

Mick Flannery has three upcoming dates in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.Susie Conroy

More than a decade ago, the Irish singer-songwriter Mick Flannery stayed for a few weeks with an acquaintance in the basement of his home in Cambridge. The friend had been a member of Rubyhorse, the band from Cork that relocated to Boston in the late 1990s.

Flannery, in his mid-20s at the time, was feeling a little fragile. He’d just been through a breakup, and he was struck by how blissful things seemed between his host, his wife, and their two young children.

“And I was jealous of this guy, so I wrote a song from his point of view,” he recalls. He called it “Boston.” The song, he says, “was an homage to what I saw as a functional relationship, or just a nice love.”


“See our boy hold his sister near/Until they’re in the clear/You whisper in my ear/That one’s going to heaven,” he wrote.

Given the title, it won’t come as a surprise when the song receives a warm welcome at Flannery’s upcoming shows in the area, beginning Wednesday at the Crystal Ballroom in Somerville in a concert presented by Global Arts Live. A steady presence at or near the top of the music charts in Ireland for more than 10 years now, the prolific Flannery is poised to welcome a new wave of Stateside fans: His eighth studio album, “Goodtime Charlie,” has just been released in America by Oh Boy, the Nashville-based record label founded by John Prine.

Flannery’s music has been embraced in Nashville for some time now. Before he released his debut album, “Evening Train,” in 2007, he became the first Irish performer to win an award at the International Songwriting Competition, which is based in Music City. Other winners have included Kasey Chambers, Fantastic Negrito, and Adrianne Lenker.

But Prine’s stamp of approval carried an added level of significance, says Flannery, joining a video call on his phone from a parked car.


“Someone passed on this message to me that John Prine had heard some of my songs and he thought, ‘Well, he’s writing some good stuff,’ ” Flannery says. “It was a proud moment to think that John had heard some of my songs at all.”

They met once, briefly, after Prine’s gig at Vicar Street, a 1,000-seat theater in Dublin that Flannery has headlined. Prine and his Irish wife, Fiona Whelan, were backstage; he was digging into a plate of fish and chips.

“I made myself scarce really quickly,” says Flannery, a soft-spoken man with a little too much humility.

After signing a restrictive contract with a major label at the beginning of his career, Flannery is pleased to be working with the independent, family-run Oh Boy. In Ireland and across Europe, he’s established enough at this point to release his albums on his own imprint.

“It’s always a kind of rainmaking scenario,” he says of his early frustration with the business. “If it rains, they say, ‘Look, we made it rain!’ And if it doesn’t, they say, ‘Well, we can’t control the weather.’ ”

“He’s always been kind of anti-establishment,” says Dave Farrell, Rubyhorse’s frontman. He’s the one who brought Flannery to Boston for that visit in 2010, after telling the young singer he needed some “life experiences” to stimulate his writing. They stayed with William “Decky” Lucey, the band’s bassist (who recently began teaching songwriting at Berklee College of Music).


During an extended visit to the city in 2010, Mick Flannery (right) played a game of chess in Harvard Square.Courtesy of Dave Farrell

Flannery is “a very strong — and I mean this in the best possible way — a very strong character,” says Farrell, who these days runs a restaurant outside of Cork. “It’s like, the smartest guy in the room is usually the quietest. That’s always been the way with Mick.”

Over time, Flannery has earned plenty of well-connected fans in America, including the Memphis songwriter Valerie June (with whom he has toured) and Anaïs Mitchell, the Vermont-based folk singer and creator of the Broadway musical “Hadestown.” Both make guest appearances on “Goodtime Charlie.”

Mitchell has been offering advice as Flannery works to adapt the songs from his conceptual first album into a musical of his own.

“We have met a good few times, and she’s been very kind to me,” he says in his gentle brogue. “She’s been guiding me through the various parts of that genre that I am completely naive to.”

The story, he explains, involves two brothers at odds with each other. Told that the theme sounds like Sam Shepard’s favorite subject — the warring brothers who may in fact represent two sides of one man — Flannery admits that he’s not too familiar with the work of the late playwright.

“That’s pretty much the exact [expletive] story,” he says with a sheepish grin.

One of five children born and raised in Blarney, Flannery grew up attending family gatherings in which his mother’s family sang songs together — not traditional Irish songs so much as American folk and country music.


His grandfather, Patrick Sullivan, “was a big Paul Robeson fan,” Flannery says. “He had a big, booming voice. He was a Johnny Cash fan, too, because he had the big voice to carry the songs. I guess he was showing off.”

His mother, Elaine, cut an album of her own in 2007 called “Keepsake,” which Flannery recently made available on Bandcamp. She sometimes joined her son and his band in the studio or onstage to sing harmony.

“She was a lovely presence,” Flannery says of his mother, who died from cervical cancer at age 59 in 2014.

As a songwriter, Flannery has mastered the art of subtle persuasion.

“I do have some songs where I’m shouting at the world, or talking about anger in general,” he says. But his idea of a great song, he says, is Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” — “something that people would sing after the wedding party has thinned down.

“That’s where true songs are sung.”


At the Crystal Ballroom, 55 Davis Square, Somerville. Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. $28-$35. At the Word Barn, 66 Newfields Road, Exeter, N.H. Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. $14-$25. At the Parlor Room, 32 Masonic St., Northampton. Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m. $23-$30.

James Sullivan can be reached at Follow him @sullivanjames.