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April 4, 2011 | by  | in Music |
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Johnny Flynn: ‘Been Listening’

Johnny Flynn is the compatriot and colleague of the significantly more famous folk princess Laura Marling. There’s a lot of similarities between Marling and Flynn; they’re both blessed with beautiful full voices and they both make good use of an English folk tradition that maybe hasn’t seen its full due in indie music. And they both have some excellent songs, but run into the same problem when making this kind of music. The polished voice plus heavy use of features of a very particular musical form can risk adding nothing new to the genre; and there’s talent here that deserves to appeal to wider audiences than just a folk crowd.

But the opening track and released single ‘Kentucky Pill’ has none of these drawbacks. It could almost be Beirut, in a good way. Flynn’s voice has a similar fruitiness and smoothness and there’s luscious use of strings and horns that lift the whole piece up and up. It’s a great blend of traditional and new. It sounds enthusiastic but not light. I wish I could hear it drinking cider in an English country pub as the sun goes down. I will have to settle. When I heard this song I was super excited for the rest of the album, but I have to say it doesn’t match the kick of this initial thrill.

The exuberance of ‘Kentucky Pill’ is just under the surface in some of the other tracks on the album; the bassier ‘Churlish May’ has an interesting more funky tone with a good use of what sounds like a floor tom, but it doesn’t reach the same heights as the opener. ‘Been Listening’ displays Flynn’s aptitude for melody but sounds slightly lazy, not quite willing to rouse itself to ask the listener in. ‘The Water’, a duet featuring Laura Marling is wordy, and soothing in a watery kind of way, but it doesn’t seem to any features that stick out.

It’s not that this is a bad album. I will most likely play this again, maybe quite a bit, particularly when people come round, because it’s not at all offensive. There’s some good experimentation with different things, the swing rock ‘Howl’ for example, and the British bluegrass ‘Agnes’, but it doesn’t seem to seize the listener by the throat. Or anything else really. But I still say watch this space, because I think Johnny Flynn has it in him to pull out an excellent album someday. It’s already there, in ‘Kentucky Pill’ and A Larum’s ‘Brown Trout Blues’ and ‘Tickle Me Pink’. It just needs a bit of consistency.

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