Johnny Flynn, ‘Country Mile’ (Transgressive)
British actor and singer-songwriter Johnny Flynn, virtually unknown in the U.S. though originally produced by Ryan Hadlock, of Woodinville’s Bear Creek Studio, has been hailed by the British press as the launchpad for the folk revival (Mumford & Sons, there; The Head and the Heart, here). This album, along with a promised stateside tour, aims to raise his American profile.
It just might work. Like an older folk generation, Flynn sings in a lusty, British-pub baritone with a sandpaper finish, drawing on triumphal Celtic rhythms, the quaint syntax of romantic balladry (“is risen,” “ ’gainst the wind,” “shores of another land”) and a sense of animist magic unique to Albion. But like the younger generation, he’s no acoustic folk purist, so he relishes electric guitar, piano, drums, bass, organ and even backup vocals, sometimes chugging away with rock energy.
The album’s theme, per its catchy, tumbling-forward title track, is the road, and “Tinker’s Trail” and “Bottom of the Sea Blues” sustain that momentum. But truth be told, Flynn’s at his best on slow and tender material like the waltzes, “Murmuration” (“I dreamt with the saints/I know them by their wing size”) and “Einstein’s Idea,” about gazing at the heavens.
When Flynn finally calms down on “Gypsy Hymn,” sung with his celestial sister, Lillie, the arrangement showcases a voice of exceptional resonance and control and a poetic style that, while short of Top 40 hooks, evokes a fetching mood.
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