With his impressive 2008 debut A Larum, Johnny Flynn snuck into the collective consciousness of folk fans, alongside fellow Brit compatriots Mumford And Sons and Laura Marling. With his follow-up, this fall’s Been Listening, Flynn has again produced an achingly lovely pop record all by his lonesome. The hyper-literate songwriter packs a novella’s worth of Shakespearean references, tales of adventure, and advice for the lovelorn into each song. For anyone older or less charming, it might read as bravado, but on Flynn, it comes off as aw-shucks exuberance, a kind of wide-eyed wonderment that’s actually refreshing. Flynn might not be as ready for a foot-stomping hoedown as his Mumford pals, but he’s more than ready for a pleasant sing-along, especially on tracks like the African hi-life influenced “Churlish May” and the brass-tinged “The Prizefighter And The Heiress.” He holds his own in a duet with Marling on “The Water,” a modern-day murder ballad done with absolute heartbreaking precision, and on “Kentucky Pill,” he manages to make a song about cow-tipping into an instant earworm. Been Listening is subtle and soulful, pleasant and pretty. It’s perfect, earnest pop, and it works.
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