We got a sneak peak of Johnny Flynn’s second LP, Been Listening, due for release on 7th June by UK independent label Transgressive Records; home to folksters on both sides of the Atlantic: Iron & Wine and Jeremy Warmsley most notably.
His 2008 debut LP A Larum won recognition in the young British folk world, and bizarrely a slot on ITV’s This Morning, presumably the kind of double edged exposure that had The Times proclaiming him the “poster boy for the nu-folk scene”. Though with his rugged yet boyish film star looks it really is no surprise that he is suited to screen and stage alike, having previously appeared on film and toured with the renowned Propeller all-male Shakespeare production company.
Recorded in London and stateside Seattle, A Larum producer Ryan Hadlock (Blonde Redhead, The Gossip, The Strokes) offers a helping hand on this latest release. Much like the debut, Been Listening is produced with the same crispness and a full band vibe, not that this detracts at all: Flynn finds, with relative ease, the perfect balance between roots inspired music and a production that would seem to rob this of its honesty and grittiness.
Opener “Kentucky Pill” showcases a host of instruments from brass to mandolin; each being allowed a little solo if you will: there is never a moment when any instrument appears drowned out by another. Lyrically poignant is “Barnacled Warship” which opens with a delicious Dylan Desire-era inspired violin and a profundity that lies in its simplicity of words: “Think I’ll fight a war/Don’t know what for/But I’ll learn when I’ve got my gun”, bringing to mind the youths in Iraq and Afghanistan as much as the adolescent’s battle for freedom from parents, the school, a sense of entrapment in their small hometown – a scene and feeling most of us can recall and one that Flynn deftly conveys behind a shroud of marching drums and trembling strings.
The most outstanding of the five tracks sampled however is “The Water”, with Laura Marling’s vocal assistance it resonates the composition of a traditional folk song, proving his and her vocal talents need little other buoyancy to keep themselves afloat. The theme of escape seems to tie many of the tracks together, and for all its macabre positivity, that is the freedom of death, this duet is no exception. It brings to mind the suicide of Virginia Woolf, which given our songwriter’s literary references it would be no shock if this were the inspiration. Other references such as the borrowed title of Hemingway’s biographical A Moveable Feast make an appearance in “Churlish May”.
While somewhat akin to the often overlooked Irish troubadour Fionn Regan lyrically; it is Flynn’s ammunition of a good six instruments to his hand that mark his talent as an overwhelming threat to his peers, such is the rarity of so condensed a talent in a single individual: The ability to strip down a song to reveal the backbone of its meaning flowing just as lucidly into a frenzy of instrumentation a mere track later.
With the help of comrades, his band The Sussex Wit, who appear on Been Listening and at live outings, they seem to be opening up this maturing artist’s growing talent: an ability for his talent to flow as easily as water from a faucet, a pure source that while it may borrow from folk styles of old is dripping in a 21st Century nostalgia.
Very much looking forward to hearing this in full.
Download Kentucky Pill: