Blair Dunlop – ‘Notes From An Island.’ (Gilded Wing Records)
Having rather enjoyed his last album, 2016’s Gilded, I was intrigued as to what Blair Dunlop would present listeners on his fourth record. If perhaps I struggled to find something on this release to connect with as much as I did with ‘356’ subsequent listens have revealed the charm that lies within.
The album opens with one of the strongest tracks, the really rather lovely ‘Spices From The East.’ Sure there aren’t many songwriters who can work the word ‘coalesced’ into a song, but this is a beautifully constructed- and performed song. A song about a couple cooking a meal together could have ended up horribly twee, but there’s more going on behind the scenes here. The spices themselves are a metaphor for Britain’s colonial past, as well as those of others:
‘King Charlemagne sowed the finest seeds in the West
Filled his garden with sprigs of thyme
And the Crusaders, returning from their sullen quests
Opened the routes to a sweeter wine.’
As with much folk music, it reflects on the past to show the connections with the present and encourage us to re-examine our surroundings.
Another highlight is ‘Sweet On You.’ Reflecting on a relationship gone wrong, where he actually realises he prefer’s the girl’s mother, the song’s structure is reminiscent of Richard Thompson (which is high praise indeed, believe you me). He realises that if the girl didn’t like Ry Cooder that the relationship couldn’t work. Doubtless some will accuse him of snobbery for his ‘shame on you with your chart house and your tabloid noise’ though others would argue it’s just about being discerning.
One of his main collaborators on this record is Ed Harcourt, who, as producer, weaves much of the same magic present on his own records here. It’s not a groundbreaking record, but it is one which presents a cosy atmosphere, like being given a warm hug. There are a few occasions when it can get a little naff -‘Feng Shui’ feels a little clumsy and awkward, for instance.
There is impressive use of light and shade in terms of how the album sounds; it is clear that Dunlop puts a lot of thought into his songwriting. These sound and feel like songs that have been patiently crafted and reflected upon. On this evidence, Blair Dunlop is growing into a great songwriter. There may be some more growth to come, but on this evidence he is able to distinguish himself from the masses of singer-songwriter-guitarists, which has never been more necessary than in the present time. I look forward to his next record with interest.
Notes From An Island is out now on Gilded Wing Records