How appropriate that English singer and songwriter Johnny Flynn is also an actor who counts Yeats and Shakespeare among his influences.
It shows on his debut, "A Larum" (Lost Highway), an album of theatrical folk songs so vivid they sound ready to burst off the record to act themselves out before your eyes. Yet his is a close, intimate approach, even on the raucous tunes, as if Flynn and his band, the Sussex Wit, are playing in a circle with you in the middle.
Acoustic guitar mingles with fiddle, mandolin, sad horns and sweet, sighing strings, while bass and drums provide subtle structure. Flynn sings in an expressive tenor, murmuring gently at the end of "All the Dogs Are Lying Down" and raising his voice in stirring three-part harmonies with sister Lillie Flynn and drummer Matt Edmonds on the melancholy "Brown Trout Blues" and the faintly menacing "Cold Bread."
Flynn's songs roam far and wide, collecting pastoral imagery on the travel song "Shore to Shore" and the bravely longing "Sally," recounting a life on the streets in "The Box" and grieving in far-away ports on "Hong Kong Cemetry."
Though he's only 25, it speaks to Flynn's classic Brit-folk sensibility that "A Larum" projects a dramatic sense of portentous deeds happening in damp chill beneath cloudy, twilit skies -- and to his skill as a singer and, no doubt, actor that he makes it all sound so compelling.