The maverick weirdness of Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsom reawakened an audience for lost treasures and legends of the folk music scenes of yore such as Vashti Bunyan and Bert Jansch.
But despite a surfeit of sensitive young singer songwriters mining the demand for acoustic whimsy, few British artists have tapped into the renewed interest in leftfield roots music with any great success. With his quirky, moving, and thoroughly enjoyable debut, A Larum, Johnny Flynn looks set to change that.
From the outset Flynn shows himself to be a gifted storyteller. The Box is a tale of a hobo celebrating the meagre requirements for a happy existence, the whole track essentially an extended take on the cry “you can’t take it with you when you go”. Backing band The Sussex Wit make one hell of a noise: guitars piled on top of ukeleles, rumbling drums and a fiddle occasionally making the sound of door opening into the next life.
The album is littered with such characters brought vividly to life. The cast list of tinkers, priests, lost lovers and vagabonds are the stuff of classic folk tradition. And it is this use of such devices that sets Johnny Flynn apart from many of his peers, who make the right noises but write about about their own lives, loves, and feelings rather than incorporating the familiar folk motifs, characters, and humour of traditional music. Only Patrick Wolf has combined original songwriting and folk so well in recent years.
So lovingly and careful crafted, the album already has a feeling of nostalgia most apparent on the beautiful ballad Wayne Rooney. For all it’s nostalgic wonder and traditional motifs not once does A Larum sound dated – it is in every way as modern and vibrant as the latest computer generated Norwegian techno, but the great thing about unashamed lack of reliance on production trickery is that it will date far slower.
A Larum is a marvellously accomplished and endearing debut that, while rooted in tradition and most easily described as folk, should have broader appeal beyond the beardy-weirdy set. Less awkward than Patrick Wolf, less brow-beaten than Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, more celebratory than Laura Marling and better in so many other ways than a host of less notable young acoustic troubadours, Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit raise the bar for young British songwriters.