Album review: Johnny Flynn ****
A Larum (Vertigo)
A former choirboy who has turned his hand to poetry, drama and acting and now with a bright future in music to look forward to, Johnny Flynn is one of life's over-achievers.
But while some flit from one artistic discipline to another without making much impact in any of them, the 24-year-old English, ex-Shakespearean thesp (whose step-brother is, ahem, Jerome Flynn of Robson and Jerome fame) is the exception to the rule, as this remarkable debut album shows.
Flynn -- no prizes for guessing that he's of Irish extraction -- makes music that is very much steeped in the English folk tradition and American blues. But what makes him so different to many of his nu-folk peers is his keenness to inject modernity into the songs. Imagine, if you will, the classic sound of Richard Thompson with the verve and swagger of The Streets. It's not for nothing that he's the poster boy of the new generation of young folkies.
His own assessment is close to the mark: "I like the simplicity and potential honesty of a song that sounds like it's been sandblasted by generations of use. Each generation discovers the form and adds to it, or takes away from it, what it sees fit, so it's constantly evolving. With that in mind, it can remain very much of the present and not a fixed, textbook sort of thing."
Flynn is as good as his word. Backed by his band, The Sussex Wit (a name that hints at the part of England he's from), his elegant and at times rocking songs are steeped in banjo, fiddle and cello. The arrangements are frequently innovative and surprising and Flynn's desire to avoid sonic cliché is admirable.
There's a maturity to the songwriting that belies his youth. Hong Kong Cemetery offers a moving tribute to his grandfather who's buried there, but who died long before he was born. Wayne Rooney is named in honour of the footballer, but is decidedly not an homage to him. And Leftovers' sombre subject matter is lightened somewhat thanks to Flynn's wise-cracking delivery. n
Burn it: Hong Kong Cemetery; Leftovers