on 14 October 2009
I found Johnny Flynn and the Sussex wit by accident... if only all accidents were as lucky.
This music is the Levellers of the naughties (and I mean that as the highest compliment) not in any copycat sense but in the sense of a beautifully crafted album written with humour, sensitivity, intelligence and (above all) musicality. The playing and writing are perfectly balanced.
Although there is no chance A Larum will get 1% of the airtime it deserves this is music that will survive the decades and will charm music lovers long after the commercial rubbish that dominates the contempory charts has been relegated to cheesey retro club nights.
The very best album I've heard in years.
It is time for the nature of music reviews - at least for popular music - to change. There's no need any longer to read a review to help you decide if you want to buy an album. All of these tracks can be heard on various places online - either in part or in full, often in different arrangements, sometimes in video - and the lyrics too are freely available. So you can listen, and read, before you decide whether to buy. The traditional reviewer role of helping you decide whether or not this music will be for you, is redundant. It's time for 'reviewers' of popular music to become critics and commentators, to promote discussion rather than offer guidance. With that in mind, here's Johnny...
Very much part of the current British Folk scene, albeit South African by birth, Flynn is a 25-year old actor, poet and songwriter. He went to Bedales, one of the most expensive independent schools in the UK, and has acted in some very prestigious Shakespeare productions. His voice is expressive rather than melodic. He may not quite hit the notes, but he feels them.
The CD insert that is devoted to Flynn (the other insert is devoted to his backing group, The Sussex Wit) rather alarmingly (or a larumingly) cites Shakespeare and Chaucer as his storytelling forebears. Flynn himself says that he has always been interested in "...storytelling as an art form. Real epic storytelling. You hear that in Chaucer, and it's mirrored in traditional folk and in the blues." Quite so, but it's not mirrored in Flynn's own songs. They are not sustained narratives, do not tell a story. They are word pictures -- fragmentary, evocative and sometimes enigmatic. Nothing wrong with that, of course. In fact, they are for the most part fine lyrics, it's just that they are not the stories he seems to think they are, and not of the tradition to which he aspires.
The versions of 'The Box' and 'Tickle Me Pink' (and I think others) are different from the single and EP versions. If you already have those versions, you might welcome the changes, as you are getting something new, some added value. Or, if you have not heard the singles versions, you might feel short-changed, as you are not getting the versions that attracted attention originally.
The musical backing is innovative and very satisfying, with wonderful use of discordant strings and prominent drum rolls, and indeed some excellent guitar work from Flynn himself, especially on 'Tunnels'. The album's coda, a brief instrumental (organ) reprise of Shore to Shore, is a nice touch, and a fine way to end the set.
I think it's a shame that The Sussex Wit doesn't get billed on the album cover. Flynn is of course the front man and songwriter, but the band is still a big part of the overall sound. They get their own separate insert, but it would have been nice if they had been given equal billing.
on 17 February 2009
this really is a truly amazing album, johnny flynn & the sussex wit as a band are unsurpassable, in my opinion & his lyrics are magical.
buuut as much as i love a larum, i do have some criticisms..
as mentioned in other reviews, some of the songs have been altered ever so slightly for the album. 'the box' for instance, has a'longer introduction & has been slowed down with a minorly changed rhythm compared to the single version (which i prefer). i downloaded a live version of 'the wrote & the writ' which i also prefer to the album version, but mainly just because i prefer the simplicity of it (less violins & orchestration).
'tickle me pink' is unchanged & still wonderful, & 'leftovers' stands out as a definite highlight.
as a bit of a nerd,i think the arrangement of songs is important in creating the mood of an album & letting the songs sound their best, & i really like the order of the songs in this.
'eyeless in holloway' & 'shore to shore' are veery good, & i really recommend this album,
but i also recommend you try to source the single version of 'the box' & other versions of 'the wrote & the writ' so you may make up your own mind.
happy listening :)
on 18 November 2014
I love this cd. The self penned tracks are really quirky but very melodic and with great backing from the strings, brass and other instruments of the Sussex Wit, often as a raucous cacophony. It is folk but with an urban feel to several of the tracks. It reminds me of the Decemberists though Johnny's songs evoke a feeling rather than tell a coherent tale. Johnny has a good voice and sings well. Fourteen tracks, my favourites are The Wrote & The Writ, Eyeless in Holloway and Cold Bread. Discovered Johnny Flynn from the theme song for BBC Detectorists series and many of these tracks are in a similar style to Treasure (unfortunately not on this album).
on 18 March 2010
I'm not usually into folk, but this really is brilliant. I've never heard the single versions of these tracks, but I think the album versions are of the highest calibre. The lyrics are thoughtful and witty, and the musical accompaniment is tangled, catchy, and perfectly paced. Although folk-ey in style, the album avoids being twee and ponderous like so much other folk music. Probably the best album I've bought this year.
on 26 January 2016
Johnny Flynn has produced some great modern folk music - steeped in the historically aware (in folk terms) traditions of the likes of Denny era Fairport Convention, yet Johnny offers his twists and great voice, and great ability to mutter a killer hook amongst travelling variations.
Yes I said that in all one sentence.
A Larum is a must hear for any folk fan - stand out tunes? There are.....but Im not gonna say because the charm of this kind of album is the whole album listening experience. You will not be disappointed. Think catch Fairport COnvention Tunes. Think sadness and charm and fooling around. Think existential beauty and silly football puns.
Currently listening to Been Listening......also fab - a bit more rock like but totally folky too and some great duets alongside Laura Marling.
Johnny is still young, talented and hopefully he will stick to his love of folk and let it blossom on his next works.
Havent heard latest album yet........still happily absorbing the other two.....
on 7 January 2015
Blimey! I bought this for my wife for Christmas, and it's never off the bloody player.
I got it as a complete punt, stumped as usual for a thoughtful prezzie, based on our both liking the BBC4 TV series Detectorists, for which Johnny Flynn provided the soundtrack.
My horse came in first for a change.
So there you go.
Only came across JF quite recently while watching The Detectorists on the BBC. He provided that beautiful haunting theme song. I looked him up and I'm so glad I did because he is now up there with my favourite artists. Of the 13 tracks on this album there isn't a dud among them, all treasures and listened to all the time. Cold Bread and The Wrote and the Writ are the choice tracks among some of best songs I've ever heard.
Of course you do need to appreciate fairly simple folk songs with little production except guitar and some occasional drums and perhaps piano, but it's the lovely lyrics and that voice that's subtle but somehow strong that is the real attraction. He sings with some conviction and passion that shines through. A true artist of enormous talent. Try to catch his duet with Laura Marling entitled The River, you can see the video on You-tube. It's now my favourite song.
on 28 March 2015
Having, like many people, first heard johnny Flynn on The Detectorists tv series I thought I'd try this. It is different to what I expected, not as gently melodic as "Treasure" and Johnny's voice seems more reedy, but it's growing on me. Many of the tunes are quite catchy and the arrangements are quirky and imaginative. Johnny sounds to me a bit like Robin Williamson and also Ray Davies, so the Incredible String Band and the Kinks kept coming to mind as I listened. Lastly, perhaps he should consider not trying to cram so many words into each song - simplicity is often more enlightening than clever complexity. (I think Devon Sproule, another very talented singer/songwriter suffers from the same fault, though her lyrics are also very clever).