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Johnny Flynn – ‘Country Mile’ @ Rough Trade East
In 2010, while record labels tripped over one-another to sign folk acts who could ride the wave of popularism sparked by Mumford & Sons – seemingly on the mantra of ‘quantity over quality’ – Johnny Flynn released his second album ‘Been Listening’, an album that emulated the high standards set by his first.At about the same time, GQ ran an article on upcoming folk singer-songwriters. Today, of those listed I can only name one – Johnny Flynn.
Aside from many a girl’s fixation on his blonde hair and boyish charms, the enduring appeal of Flynn stems from his lyrics, which occasionally tackle the usual fare of liaisons, jilted love, and crumbling relationships, but more often than not embrace themes of religion, death, self-reflection, and Wayne Rooney. Poetic in the extreme his songs could easily be read as well as sung, and they swing between storytelling prose and the more traditional Mumford-esque chorus singalongs.
Flynn’s new album ‘Country Mile’ is easily recognisable, with tracks like ‘Gypsy Hymn’ echoing songs from earlier albums, in particular ‘All The Dogs Are Lying Down’ and ‘The Prizefighter and the Heiress’. His shanty sound, epitomised in ‘Barnacled Warship’, is found here in ‘Bottom of the Sea Blues’ and while his Irish influence can be detected in certain songs, this album has a firm root in a frontier sound, especially in the title track ‘Country Mile’ and ‘Fol-De-Roi’. Flynn’s successful collaboration with Laura Marling on his last album is also echoed by the distinct prominence of his sister Lillie Flynn on most tracks.
As with his other albums, ‘Country Mile’ is a grower. On first listening you pine for the songs you know, but as the lyrics and melodies become more familiar the album’s quality comes to the fore. This is definitely an album which won’t disappoint fans. And judging by his all too short set at Rough Trade East, neither will his performances. Aside from the length (which presumably was designed as a taster of his forthcoming tour) the gig was a selection of the best from his new album, with a couple of classics thrown in to appease those who, perhaps, haven’t warmed to (or heard) his new material. For an actor, his interactions with the crowd is strangely subdued, bordering on the shy; but for most fans, the music is what they want to hear and this is what he does best. The small space created at the back of Rough Trade let’s the most obsessive get very close, while providing the rest of us with an atmospheric cocoon of sound which suits Flynn’s music perfectly.