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Blair Dunlop: Notes From An Island

review dunlop x1 cong

All Dunlop’s albums we’ve had in the past have been good – you’re always guaranteed quality with Mr D – and we have seen him move from folk to pop, and Notes From An Island sees the move continue. It’s now more pop than folk, and more commercial.

The tunes always seem simple (but aren’t – that’s the trick, obviously) and the lyrics are always intelligent and thoughtful, often telling a story but sometimes not, perhaps with a more political bent this time round.

It opens as it goes on: Spices From The East is a thoughtful song (more folk-tinged than some of the others), initially about cooking a meal. But politics in the wider sense soon worms its way in, as Dunlop reflects on the lucrative spice trade from centuries past; what we take for granted in our spice rack was once an expensive product brought in by wealthy ship-owners for the super-rich to enjoy.

Feng Shui reverses this expansion from the domestic to the global to some degree; it’s about a man walking round his flat after splitting up with his partner, reflecting on their life together, the Feng Shui making the flat more open, the relationship trapping him within its four walls.

Sweet On You follows, containing one of the cruellest lines ever written in a song. It’s a sweet pop tune in which he reflects on a lost crush, admitting early on his feelings were mixed and that he possibly subsumed the girl’s personality with his, but still: he was sweet on her. The issue was settled when he realised she didn’t like Ry Cooder (specifically around the Buena Vista years, the lyrics imply, a sentiment we endorse 100%) ending with a volte face from the opening: “If I had the choice between you and your mother, I know which one I’d choose….” (insert that sound that cats make).

It’s all good. It should be: Dunlop is the son of folk legend Ashley Hutchings and his band is top notch, including bass from Ed Harcourt, who had some good albums of his own a few years back and now writes for other people. Harcourt also produced the album.

If you like folk/intelligent pop you should get this, but try his earlier stuff: we really like 2014’s House of Jacks, which starts off standard folk, but goes delightfully Neil Young in places.

Notes From An Island is out on Gilded Wings Records.

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