Friday, May 01, 2009

Review: A Larum -- Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit

Johnny Flynn made me stop in my tracks. And it wasn't because he was particularly different or interesting, although he was, or even that in that difference, his music had a sort of familiarity that one doesn't often find in a song they hear for the first time, which it did. I think it was something in the words, something that shook me awake with its simple sentiment.

It was the first song I'd ever heard of his, and I heard it in the car while listening to my local college station, 90.5 KCSU, which is based out of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. The song was called "The Box" and the words I heard went like this:

Sweep my mess away
Leave my body, leave my bones
Leave me whole and leave my soul
Leave me nothing I don't need at all
Nothing I don't need at all

To hear Johnny Flynn belt out words like this in a rich, honey-coated warble is an experience worth pursuing. Ever since that defining moment, I've listened to as much Johnny Flynn as I can, and pressed my fellow music fans to give a listen as well. They are usually right pleased with him, and I think it's because they hear what I hear in the music. That is, that Flynn seems genuine in his delivery. There isn't a lot of posturing, no over-production to mask the words so that they drown in the instrumentation.

He's a storyteller, as anyone planted in the roots of folk tends to be, but there is a raw energy to his stories such that you sense the empathy he feels toward the subjects of his words. And for someone only 25 years old, he lends a maturity to his music that is usually reserved for weathered old men in rocking chairs. It can be arresting at times, especially because you get the sense that there is much more to come, and that what's on offer is simply a humble beginning. Given the first release from the band he fronts, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, it seems that it's high time he starts to get the recognition he deserves.

Their first album, A Larum, came out in 2008 and is definitely worth picking up. My favorite tracks on the album include "The Box," "Tickle Me Pink," "Leftovers," and "The Wrote & The Writ." But the album as a whole has a fluidity that makes it perfect for a long drive or a day thick with clouds. Flynn has mentioned in a few interviews, such as this one with NPR, that his music is inspired by Shakespeare and events that occur in the news. It seems that these literary influences have helped him shape the poetic quality of his lyrics, and may explain why his words are so steeped in a charm that seems cut and pasted from another time.

In any event, this album comes highly recommended for anyone who can appreciate a bit of folk driven rock with a pop sensibility that seems equally culled from the likes of Bob Dylan, folk music of southern gothic americana, and English tradition, all without sounding like knock-off. You can obtain it on iTunes or at, and for more information on the band, please check out their website or their MySpace page.

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