Johnny Flynn’s debut ‘A Larum’ was a beautiful collection of gentle and upbeat folk songs, all with Johnny’s incredible poetic lyrics and musical talent running throughout. ‘Been Listening’ still contains all these things but he has taken it a step further and the African and Deep South American influences have blossomed in many of the tracks.
The first track ‘Kentucky Pill’ has been available as a free download for a while. It obviously shows this change in sound with the added instrumentation and syncopation in the percussion. ‘Lost & Found’ is a track which could have been placed in A Larum but the added electric guitar and harmonies on the chorus makes it perfectly fit within this album. ‘Churlish May’ begins with a brass band melody before the African style drumming enters. ‘Been Listening’ is my first highlight of the album. It perfectly shows off Johnny’s poetic talents and the electric guitar solo’s and cello part fill out the otherwise very simple song. ‘Barnacled Worship’ has a very traditional folk feel to it, possibly because of the violin solo in the introduction while next track ‘Sweet William Part 2’ has a country/bluesy feel to it. The chorus to this next track is another highlight of the album for me with the harmonic vocals and snippets of lyrics from ‘Sweet William’ the EP which was out in the autumn. I have raved about ‘The Water’ a few times before. He has song this with Marcus Mumford but the final version is with Laura Marling. It’s stunning, my instant highlight of the album. The purity of Laura and Johnny’s voices together is so beautiful. The song has the simplest accompaniment of the album but the lyrics and the voices say it all. ‘Howl’ begins with a rather rock and roll guitar solo and the whole track has a progressive-rock feel to it. The bridge section which begins with ‘stay inline Joe…’ is stunning and this is followed by a trumpet solo, showing yet more of Johnny’s instrumental talents. The next track ‘Agnes’ which reminds me of a First Aid Kit track at the beginning soon moves into a country folk dance, another track sounding heavily influenced by American country music (an influence which Mumford and Sons have also absorbed). ‘Amazon Love’ which begins with the line ‘Everybody in this place is dreaming, it’s been that way forever’ is a beautiful piano ballad and the introduction of the female voice (which I presume is Lily Flynn?) is very lovely. The final track ‘The Prizefighter and the Heiress’ is a wonderful way to finish the album, absorbing all the folk, Americana and African influences into one song.
Throughout the album, Johnny’s voice is strong and the Sussex Wit are proved to be a very talented band as usual. Johnny Flynn is obviously a incredible poet and songwriter but with this album he has made his songs more then just simple folk songs but more compositions with heavy instrumentation. Some of the tracks you will instantly love, for me ‘The Water’, ‘Amazon Love’ and ‘Been Listening’ were immediate favourites but others take a while to grow on you, especially if you are familiar with the older Johnny Flynn. It’s a brilliant and very clever turn in musical direction which I hope gets him more noticed. However, I still see Johnny Flynn as a poet, and I think that’s were his strength is so although all this added instrumentation and collaborations is nice, maybe he doesn’t need it.
Best Tracks: The Water, Been Listening, Kentucky Pill and Howl
‘Been Listening’ is released on June 7th on Transgressive. You can listen to a 5-track sampler here.