Review: Johnny Flynn, “Been Listening”

Been Listening
Image Courtesy of Johnny Flynn

I’ve ‘Been Listening’ to Johnny Flynn’s new album, and I like what I hear.

It’s somewhat strange that with the revival in popularity of the folk scene that Johnny Flynn has seen very little of the media spotlight here in Australia.  Indeed, although Johnny Flynn and his band the Sussex Wit have been doing the rounds a lot longer then fellow folksters and touring partners Mumford and SonsFlynn’s unique music hasn’t shared the exposure his contemporaries have enjoyed.   Things look set to change on the Australian scene at least, with Flynn confirmed to perform on these shores in early August.

Laura Marling completionists may initially pick up this album because of her appearance in the duet ‘The Water’,  but what they’ll discover is a complex and refreshing album from one of the UK folk scenes most accomplished artists.  The opener ‘Kentucky Pill’ is a joyful, optimistic track with confident and tight production that instantly feels more polished and ‘poppy’ than anything we’ve heard before, fueled largely by an energetic drum beat and childhood reminiscences  that sweep away any preconceptions of a “Johnny Flynn” sound.

The second track ‘lost and found’ opens with a riff reminiscent of  ‘shore-to- shore’ from A Larum (2008), allowing Flynn’s unique vocal qualities to shine, with subtle and gentle harmonies that feel much more connected to his previous work.  Trumpets take front and centre in the catchy ‘Churlish May’, which paves the way for the bluesy ‘Been listening’ with a gorgeous electric guitar riff that put me in mind of the Pixies. At this point in my first listen I can confess that I was completely in love with the album.  Lyrically, Flynn always gives me just enough to want to know more and from the line ‘a Kentucky pill and a cow-tipping expedition’ we know that this as album of stories, some of which are strange and difficult to comprehend and others like the excellent  ‘Barnacled Warship’ or the ‘The Water’ which appeal more to the senses.

A real treat is ‘Sweet William part 2’, which reprises the EP of late last year.  Sweet William is a favorite track if mine, and this new version, which sounds far more raw and under-produced when compared with the rest of the album, is a jam-band reprise, a snapshot in time of something that sounds as though it has evolved through many live performances…and  feels like it will continue on moving and growing long after this recording.

At first listen ‘Amazon Love’ seems at odds with the rollicking start of the album, particularly as it follows the energetic ‘Agnes’.  This slow, hopeful track couldn’t sound further from the buoyant ‘Kentucky Pill’, yet it is in this track that we hear Flynn at his most poetic.  Harking back to A Larum’s softer moments,  ‘Amazon Love’ seems to gather all the threads and ideas of ‘Been Listening’ together and steer the entire album home.

Been Listening is an album that encapsulates it’s creator’s obvious delight in all the tastes, sights and sounds of life, and fans will find much that us familiar, and much that is new. Those coming fresh to Flynn’s sound will go on a not-altogether- predictable journey, and encounter an energetic and inspired travelling companion in Johnny Flynn.

2 Comments

  1. Evan Hughes said,

    July 5, 2010 at 12:21

    Completely agree with you on this Macka. Found the album was a little less hoe-downy than A Larum, possibly because of the higher production values (and horn sections).

    “Sweet William part 2” is my highlight as well. And am totally with you on “Amazon Love” being a little out of place within the context of the album but it’s a beautiful track regardless.

    Nice work!

  2. Annas said,

    July 12, 2010 at 11:28

    Johnny just announced a headline show at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne on August 3rd, so everyone get there and show this beautiful man your support, it will be his first headline gig in Australia!


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