Two distinctive British singer-songwriters are nearing the end of the cross-country journey with a band of West Londoners, all of them delivering harmony-rich perfs of music that connects to classic folk music structures, ones that have been breeding grounds for the likes of Dylan, the Pogues and Richard Thompson. Johnny Flynn, who plays guitar, mandolin and trumpet, arrived highly touted prior to the U.S. release of “A Larum” (Lost Highway) and his easy-going nature and delivery add healthy charm to the rootsy Brit folk material. Laura Marling is less inviting yet more stylized; considering her age, 18, her songs have surprising depth.
Flynn, boyish-looking with matinee-idol potential, has a healthy dose of ye olde England running through his veins — he comfortably accents his modern milieu with musical and lyrical references from his grandfather’s era. Focused as his sound is, each tune featured out a distinct charactistic: “Cold Breed” allowed him to unleash his impressive ability to vocally soar; “Hong Kong Cemetery,” on which he plays trumpet, demonstrated his ability spin on a dime from the maudlin to the exultant; the bubby sing-along “Tickle Me Pink” should be No. 1 in pubs throughout the U.K.
His 45-minute set ended with “Shore to Shore,” an impressive application of age-old British folk music, the common bond between the three acts on this refreshing bill. The first great folk revival of the 1950s and early ’60s occurred at a time when pop music turned strikingly vapid and teen-targeted; the promise Flynn and the other acts exhibit suggests music that connects intelligently with its roots might be primed for finding a larger audience.
A striking platinum blonde, Marling’s stylistically unique with a whisp of familiarity; think a young Joni Mitchell fronting the Incredible String Band. She sings, dry and often free of vibrato, as if she is speaking, her words flowing in well-enunciated, rapid clusters, vocal overtones adding to the musicality of each piece. Her eyes shift — looking skyward or at a point on the floor — rarely making eye contact with the aud while singing.
Stridency and calmness alternate in many of her songs. At times, she is clearly a throwback to the folk music of the 1960s, when young artists attempted to create a communion between the traditional and the new. That was most evident on the title track of her second album, “Alas, I Cannot Swim,” which covers that age-old folk-song topic of desire vs. acceptance.
Openers were Mumford and Sons, whose members have roles in the bands of Marling and Flynn. With bracing four-part harmonies, a broken romance to sing about and a style that borrows from Paul Simon and the Pogues, Mumford and Sons are a compelling unit. Unsigned and with no recordings under their belt, their songs and performance are potent and contagious.