Home Music Johnny Flynn and Robert Macfarlane: Lost in the Cedar Wood

Johnny Flynn and Robert Macfarlane: Lost in the Cedar Wood

As Johnny Flynn sees it, the forces that drive us to stave off our inner demons are the same ones that send rivers to the ocean. To believe anything else is to go against nature. It’s a beautifully optimistic view on the human condition, that we are naturally meant to move towards inner peace and better ourselves, and it’s this faith that infuses Flynn’s fifth studio album with such a hopeful tone.

Composed with renowned nature writer Robert Macfarlane, Lost in the Cedar Wood is rife with imagery of birds, trees and rivers, depicting Flynn’s struggle against inner darkness to be propelled rather than swept under by the forces of nature. Opener “Ten Degrees of Strange” sets the scene: a yodeling electric guitar and breakneck acoustic strumming threaten chaos as Flynn describes, “There’s a black dog following hot on my trail/ Set firm on holding my heart till it fails.” The track is invigorating in its narrator’s resolve to keep running from his demons, and the cutthroat instrumental keeps us on the edge of our seats, knowing that at such a pace and at any moment he could trip on a tree root.

The record is a bit hit-or-miss in its attempts to create such tension between Flynn and the instrumentals. Some of these songs abandon rhythm outright, such as the wandering “I Can’t Swim There,” the album’s most direct portrayal of a “raging sea” as the natural motion that the singer tries to move with rather than against. With its reverbed electric guitar and Flynn’s impassioned wailing, the song’s production is pristine, but its start-and-stop structure is jarring and disengaging, too big of a sacrifice for what was likely an attempt to convey the singer’s loss of footing. And then there’s “Bonedigger,” the bounding saloon ditty complete with barroom piano and muted trumpets that lasts two minutes too long on its own and has no place in the album’s tracklist.

But for every miscue, there’s a strong point like “Gods and Monsters.” Restless guitar and piano lines create a whirlwind as Flynn spins out over “questions that never have answers” and a “story without ending.” Later on “Home and Dry,” a cozy accordion and joyous claps support the singer’s mission statement and the great realization of Lost in the Cedar Wood: “Oh I’ll row with the waves till the numbness/ And though the sea calls, your voice is my compass.” On both tracks and implicitly throughout the record, Flynn’s eternal flight from his darkness is grounded by love.

The somber closer “Ferryman” describes a mysterious paddler rowing on. Even in Flynn’s lowest moments, he has faith in the Ferryman to continue taking him on “the path to the sun.” Bookended by such impactful moments but otherwise inconsistent, Flynn’s fifth studio album only sometimes hits its uplifting messages home. Still, with powerful imagery, masterful guitar work and passionate vocals, Lost in the Cedar Woods‘ strongest moments are refreshingly hopeful and invigorating, Johnny Flynn’s traditional folk music at its best.

Summary
Johnny Flynn’s fifth studio album is inconsistent, but with powerful imagery, masterful guitar work and passionate vocals, Lost in the Cedar Woods’ strongest moments are refreshingly hopeful and invigorating.
55 %
Hopeful folk
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