Actor, poet, heart-throb, songwriter — Renaissance Man. Johnny Flynn is a Jack of many trades.
The folk singer, whose most recent album Been Listening saw release in the States last week, began his life in the theater. Citing Shakespeare and Yeats as major influences, the versatile Flynn is a member of the “Propeller Theater Troupe” in London, England. As a member, he has acted in several productions, including William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
In 2006, he moved from proscenium to concert hall and costumed garb to steel guitar, forming the band Sussex Wit.
Been Listening, the Londoner’s follow-up to his break through debut A Larum, makes better use of his band: generous strings, bombastic horns and multi-track harmonies are prominent throughout the record. On “Kentucky Pill,” the album’s opening track, Flynn enjoys a “cow-tipping expedition” with his childhood friends. The very Americana folk song centers around a trumpet hook — uplifting and proud — before the album trudges into darker, love-lorn territories.
Indeed, there is a strange aura about Flynn, whose English upbringing clearly did not involve “living in boxes by the rails” and “cow tipping” with pals from the Deep South. Like Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale or the more popular Mumford & Sons, Flynn represents a piece of the nu-folk scene in Sussex. The scene wears their Bob Dylan and chamber artists (think British Fleet Foxes) influences on their sleeves with pride.
Flynn, like Dylan or The Band, is a storyteller first, lifting ideas from personal history, newspaper clippings and the oral tradition. In “Barnacled Warship,” he narrates the life of a troubled soldier going off to war; in “Churlish May,” he describes a year-long love story, culminating in spring.
Johnny Flynn performed last night at Atlanta’s Masquerade venue, playing an acoustic set without his five-man backing band. And yet that’s all Flynn needs to shine: his guitar, his stories and his endlessly appealing wit.
— By Editor-at-Large Geoffrey Schorkopf