Review: Johnny Flynn and Robert Macfarlane – Lost in the Cedar Wood

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The spate of lockdowns over the past year have prompted outpourings of music from musicians across the world. This offering from the enviably talented Johnny Flynn is full of the kind of warmth and joy that we all need in these difficult times.

Flynn is perhaps best known at the moment for his work as an actor – appearing most recently in Emma and The Dig  – but his music was what first brought him to fame and he returns here with his fifth studio album.

Lost In the Cedar Wood was created with Flynn’s good friend, nature writer Robert Macfarlane. The pair began collaborating early on in the UK’s first lockdown, and once restrictions permitted were able to meet to record most of the album in a Hampshire cottage. The result is full of shades of light and dark, but that ultimately brings joy every time you listen.

The pair were inspired by the ancient poem The Epic of Gilgamesh, with tracks such as Tree Rings and Enkidu Walked making explicit reference to the events described in that text. Despite its ancient roots the album manages to feel fresh and relevant. This is partly achieved through exploration of the kind of feelings that people experience whenever and wherever they might be; opening track Ten Degrees of Strange is a poignant exploration of sadness and grief with an emotional depth that belies the energy of its frantic guitar and violin.

Lost in the Cedar Wood is an album that can shape itself around your mood. You can immerse yourself in the entirety of it, or hone in on particular tracks depending on how you are feeling.’

This sense of relevance is also achieved through the exploration of the themes of Gilgamesh which still carry weight today, notably humankind’s destruction of the world around us. Tree Rings is “The first of the tellings/Of all of the fellings” and with brooding menace recounts the destruction of the cedar wood by the Gilgamesh’s two main characters. Flynn and Macfarlane are both passionate advocates for the protection of the natural world, and this shines through not only in Tree Rings but in the many references to nature that run throughout the album. Lost in the Cedar Wood is not just an exploration of human experience, but an ode to the natural world that supports us.

Despite this heavy material, Lost in the Cedar Wood is an uplifting experience, full of beauty. These come not just in the poetic nature of the lyrics, but in the album’s warm instrumentation and in the friendly openness of Flynn’s voice. This beauty comes in moments too – whether it is in fragments of a lyric, or on the chorus of Nether, when Flynn is joined by his ten year old son Gabriel in a poignant duet.

Lost in the Cedar Wood is an album that can shape itself around your mood. You can immerse yourself in the entirety of it, or hone in on particular tracks depending on how you are feeling. Flynn and Macfarlane may have written it as a response to the unprecedented times we all find ourselves in, but Lost in the Cedar Wood is an album destined to resonate and endure far beyond these strange years.

You can listen to the new album here.

Image Credit: Johnny Flynn, Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth via Wikimedia Commons

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