What sets Johnny Flynn apart from many of Britain's better-known new folk-revivalists is his knack for timeless, literate songwriting. Delivered with the confidence of a seasoned Shakespearian actor and the severity and humor of a young Richard Thompson, Flynn's songs come from a more arcane place in the English idiom, managing to seem both profound and conversational at once. Between his lyrical imagery and his agile, dynamic fingerstyle guitar playing there lies a substance and weight which have never been more apparent than on his third record, Country Mile. Backed again by his longtime band the Sussex Wit, Country Mile exists in a sort of neo-trad dimension of Flynn's own invention. It's familiar and warm like so many of the great British folk records, yet still seems as if it could have been made by no one but him. After three records, he and the band have developed their own sound, a sort of deep, wooden-roomed bellow with just enough murk to give it mystique but always with Flynn's warm voice calmingly present up front. It's sonically similar to the tone he set with his excellent debut, A Larum, in 2008, but it's part of his signature now and marries well with the more thoughtful ballads and subtle experimentation on Country Mile. Standouts like "Gypsy Hymn" (a piano-led duet with his sister Lillie) and the wonderful "Tinker's Trail" harken back to the heydays of Topic Records' classic folk catalog while the uptempo title track favors a more modern indie sensibility with its rough electric guitar, Hammond organ, and trumpet. The buoyant, Latin-rhythmed "Fol-de-rol" steams along uniquely with its complex counterpoint harmonies and strong melody, but Country Mile is largely a more subtle record than its predecessor, 2010's Been Listening, and shines most in its quieter moments. With the distractions of Flynn's burgeoning acting career and the birth of his first child, Country Mile may not have been the great creative leap forward that some fans were hoping for, but this beautifully written album stands up to anything in his catalog.
Country Mile Review
by Timothy Monger