Johnny Flynn – A Larum

The venerable musk emanating from Johnny Flynn’s debut A Larum seems to demand the kind of respect normally reserved for World War Two veterans.

This record sounds old. At a rosy–cheeked, wide–eyed twenty four, Flynn has managed to cultivate a voice that sounds like he’s spent the last fifty years gargling bark chips in the rear carriage of a Wild West steam engine.

Actually, he sounds affectingly like Syd Barrett, evoking a more fancy–free (and possibly imaginary) time for British music, when our heroes were genuinely kooky and the likes of The Kooks were kept on the polo field where they belonged. When the songs work, it puts one in the mood for taking a walk through an ancient glade, feeling the leaves crunch under your feet, and running your hand along the trunk of an old oak tree.

Our Johnny is a little unfortunate in that he slots into my iTunes library right between Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell. But there’s no need for him to feel too overawed. When we bear in mind that this sort of music has been produced commercially for over sixty years, it seems unreasonable to expect him to pull up any trees on his first album.

And he doesn’t, but the performances are confident and accomplished, his twisty, precocious little songs fleshed out with strings, banjo, horns and a solid rhythm section, which combine to powerful effect on ‘Hongkong Cemetry’ (sic) and ‘Eyeless In Holloway’.

This won’t astound anyone familiar with Dylan, Drake, Morrison, Young et al, but on standout songs like ‘Brown Trout Blues’ he shows a knack for combining a traditional folk sound with a post–punk attitude that characterises many successful modern roots–based acts like Bright Eyes or Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.

On this evidence, Flynn has a lot to learn, but also a lot of potential to fulfil, and he may yet find his own place in folklore.

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Three stars