courtesy of the artist
An assist from Laura Marling helps transport Johnny Flynn's "The Water" into its own stratosphere.
Song: "The Water"
Artist: Johnny Flynn
CD: Been Listening
Certain songs sound as if they could have been written 100 or more years ago. In some cases, that's even a good thing. Take British singer-songwriter Johnny Flynn's "The Water." Long before Flynn, many Celtic troubadours have strummed uncomplicated chords like these and sung about venturing out onto a body of water as a way of cleansing and rediscovery. Lines like "So wide is my river" even recall coffee-house standards like "The Water Is Wide."
The most inventive songwriters take such time-worn tropes and give them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Built on a steady, unwavering drone of acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, cello and light percussion, "The Water" sounds both ancient and modern. The track glistens without sounding fusty. Singing about how "the river runs deep / and the larger fish creep," Flynn channels the stolid, dour delivery of many pub-folkies before him, but could just as easily be fronting an especially austere indie band.
What transports the song into its own stratosphere is the accompaniment of another up-and-coming British folkie, Laura Marling. With her sweet, high delivery, Marling recalls predecessors like Jacqui McShee of Pentangle. Her gorgeous harmony tags along like a sad-sack friend, while also imbuing the song with a tangible sense of hope and beauty. Thanks to Marling, Flynn sounds as if he'll eventually reach his destination — and maybe even find happiness there.