Blair Dunlop: Notes From An Island – album review
NOTES FROM AN ISLAND
Gilded Wings Records
Released 18 May 2018
The fourth album from Blair Dunlop finds him wearing his heart on his sleeve; his songs providing an outlet for his outpourings and confessionals as he digs deep and lays bare his emotions.
Despite the strong folk related background that runs through his veins, Blair Dunlop is developing into a musician / singer / songwriter who seems to be edging further away from those roots. We find him on the cover, cross legged on a rug, reading beneath a standard lamp while the guitar and amp (or is it…?) sit awaiting for the inspiration to come through. The rug may be a obvious visual analogy of the island – but attempts to convey his personal solitude while at the same time relate to a broader view of our national status. Although no man is an island, as someone said once and Blair quotes on Weds To Arms, he’s fully at liberty to challenge that view; the damage that surfaces from isolation. Anyway…
Notes… is an album that sees collaborations with Ed Harcourt (Mercury Award Nominee 2001, producer for Sophie Ellis Bextor, Marianne Faithfull), Dave Burn (ahab), Gita Langley (Dirty Pretty Strings, Lock) and Brooke Sharkey. There’s also the musical contributions from his usual crew of Fred Claridge and Jacob Stoney whose organ and Wurlitzer stabs regular inject and lift the songs with a warmth and depth. The deadly duo of Tom Moore and Archie Churchill Moss also add their two for one melodeon/viola combo.
Announced by a familiar tumble and tickle of atmospheric percussion and guitar notes, Spices From The East sets the tone by introducing “two souls unstable, souls intertwined”. The notion of separation and love going wrong and the struggle to emerge unscathed making an early stance. The single, Sweet On You, is a country folk rocker that musically references Tom Petty and lyrically references Ry Cooder – girls take note, you need to be on the same musical wavelength as Blair and in a strange twist, it’s no wonder he professes to opt for the mother – experience and musical taste obviously. The easy flow of narrative is polished off with Ed Harcourt’s Nashville guitar showcase that gives the impression it may be a track that could see him leading a Travelling Wilburys style revival.
The change in atmosphere in the late night reedy blues of I Do, possibly sung viewed through the bottom of a whisky glass with the confessional self-analysis that he’s “looked a shambles for years” and an angst riddled deliberation. Don’t feel this is an album that could rival Phil Collins’ Face Value in terms of relationship breakdown melancholy, but the themes of separation, loss and regret flow into One And The Same, where there seems to be a hint of redemption. IMHO, as they say, the first two verses rate up with the best things he’s done, until the arrangement steps up a gear; posing the question of whether or not the waves of cymbal and shift of dynamics work, or would I like to hear the more intimate nature of the opening continue in classic Blair Dunlop style, beautifully picked guitar and a tender delivery…I still can’t decide, but maybe that shift in dynamic is an indication of the depth of feeling. A more uplifting and optimistic antidote to the earlier musings.
It concludes an intense and fulfilling opening half – if it were vinyl, you’d be tempted to pop the needle back to the start rather than flip over but when you do, there’s a more subdued feel in the grooves. That desire to hear the solo Dunlop at work comes with the very stripped back Within My Citadel. Gloriously finger picked again in what some would see as a folky style as he contemplates the possibility of “remnants of a boyhood in disguise.” A Fleetwood Mac styled rhythm section sets an easy groove on Threadbare as the journey continues coated in a more introspective ambience; one that gives way to the relief of a swirl of hypnotic sound that accompanies the “We’re the North Atlantic Drift” line emerging in Wed To Arms as he sings of being an island on an island before the comedown coda of the more intimate than intimate, hold your breath, delivery of Cobalt Blue.
There may be moments where fleeting touches optimism and recovery drift by and more of the subtleties will surely reveal themselves with repeated listening, but for sure you’ll need a few moments to dust yourself down after an encounter with Notes From An Island. An encounter that confirms Blair Dunlop is evolving into a musician who makes soul searching an art form.
Listen to Spices From The East here:
You can find the Blair Dunlop website at : http://blairdunlop.com/