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Johnny Flynn - Country Mile

Old fashioned in places, a little po-faced in others, but it’s jolly good fun.

“I’ve only got so near / I’ve only got so far,”

sighs Johnny Flynn on the opening title track of ‘Country Mile’. He’s earned a right to be wistful. In the years since his and backing band The Sussex Wit’s first album (2008’s ‘A Larum’; that’s ‘Alarm’ to everyone who doesn’t speak Middle English), he’s been left in the dust of old pals Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons. For better or worse, Flynn’s always seemed a little different to his folky peers – a little more reverent of the past of folk music, without the need for tweed – and the difference has never been more obvious than on ‘Country Mile’.

By all measures, Flynn should be super pretentious: not only is he a classically trained theatre (and latterly film) actor, he’s also a serious folky. The Sussex Wit don’t just wear the banjos and steel-pedals of the genre, they play music that’s genuinely a lot like elder statesmen like Waterson / Carthy and the late Bert Jansch. ‘Country Mile’ is stuffed not only with the requisite nu-folk sounds (acoustic guitars, brushed drums, softly-spoken “woooah-oh” backing vocals, like an arena rock band trying to whisper), but the vocabulary too: it’s all “singing of a lark” this and “Fol-De-Rol” that. And it does become a little too po-faced in places, to the point it’s cringeworthy, especially on the far-too-worthy piano ballad ‘Gypsy Hymn’.

It’s a bit odd. And not just when he drops an anachronistic (and weird, like some ill-judged product placement) reference to Clover spread on ‘After Eliot’, which otherwise has a jolly nice melody. They do thankfully make some other concessions to the current day that don’t involve branded dairy produce: single ‘The Lady Is Risen’ has a pretty great horn section, and ‘Murmuration’ is bound to end up on a mixtape (or, er, playlist) between a She & Him track and something off of ‘Flaws’, whilst still being distinct. Flynn and band are happy to be a little old-fashioned, but it can be fun to join them.

Tags: Johnny Flynn, Reviews, Album Reviews

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