Trad-folk’s golden boy and one of the UK’s preeminent nature writers have produced a lockdown-borne collection of heroically upbeat musings
Of course trad-folk’s golden boy and one of the UK’s preeminent nature writers are pals. This lockdown project between Johnny Flynn and Robert Macfarlane is the Countryfile of collabs: a cosy, verdant thing that feels as restorative as a breath of fresh woodland air. And, if you listen closely enough, you might just learn something.
Though he might have spent the past few years setting out his stall as a master of both stage (a delicious, double-demin-ed turn in Sam Shepard’s True West in the West End) and screen (a period gent in Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 version of Jane Austen’s Emma and a louche shagger in STI sitcom Lovesick), Johnny Flynn will always be the bright-eyed and bushy tailed acoustic songsmith who broke through with 2008’s poetic ‘A Larum’. Preceding Mumford & Sons world-conquering sound by a full year, Flynn’s brand of folk was always a more rugged, complex beast, plugging into middle ages melancholy as much as it did the 1970s bounce of Fairport Convention.
At 38, Flynn might not be so bushy tailed anymore, but in the place of youthful zest comes a stately maturity. His first album since 2017’s ‘Sillion’, ‘Lost In The Cedar Wood’ was conceived in the first half of 2020, during OG lockdown, back when spring had sprung but we were only allowed an hour a day to enjoy it and we had to pretend to be going for a jog at the same time. Here Flynn and Macfarlane did what they do best and began working on words and music that summed up the sense of doom and detachment they were feeling.
Taking inspiration from the ancient epic poem The Epic of Gilgamesh and picking on parallels between its themes of grief and global disaster and the precarious state of the modern world, they started firing voice notes and WhatsApps back and forth. This patchworking of ideas continued until they could finally meet in a far-flung Hampshire cottage to record the 11-song album’s first eight tracks.
The result is a fulsome, heroic thing. Opener ‘Ten Degrees of Strange’ is an uplifting ode to outrunning sorrow, the heavy jangle of ‘Gods and Monsters’ similarly finds beauty in bleakness and there’s a buoyant hillbilly bounce to ‘Bonedigger’. ‘Nether’ is folk music at its purest as storytelling set to song and the mighty ‘Flood In The Desert’ sounds like it might possibly be breaking the rule of six, so packed it is with voices and general merriment.
Rather than being dragged down by despair, ‘Lost In The Cedar Wood’ – typified by the playful ‘Home and Dry’ – is the joyful sound of spotting sunshine in the darkest of times.