11 May, 2014 in Music Reviews
On his sophomore release ‘House Of Jacks’, award-winning folk songwriter Blair Dunlop displays a craftsmanship that taps into southern bluegrass
n 2013, Chesterfield songwriter Blair Dunlop received the Horizon Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, an honour that recognises the achievements of newcomers to the folk scene. It is then somewhat disarming to find the most immediate qualities of his songwriting rooted in the southern blues-rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Opener Something’s Gonna Give Way announces itself with a snaking guitar line, like a union between Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and the work of their alt-rock revisionists Blind Melon. Possessed of an affection for straw cleft bluegrass melodies, it would nestle neatly among the sweeter moments of the Skynyrd canon and makes it quickly apparent that Dunlop’s folk classification hangs neither as a noose nor a talisman.
The classic rock influence is not restricted to this fine introduction. 45s (c.69) has the feel of the hirsute Southerners covering Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al and Chain By Design has the hushed tone of Blind Melon’s more subdued moments. Different Schools even evokes the dreamy prog qualities of primetime Pink Floyd.
However it’s not by accident that a folk classification has been given to Dunlop. Fifty Shades Of Blue has the same heartfelt timbre that’s taken Ed Sheeran from a precocious songwriter with a ferocious appetite for work, to a star whose fanbase is devoted and craftsmanship coveted across the globe.
“a soul sensitive enough to tug on the heartstrings, but not wrought enough to tear them”
With Dunlop possessed of the same sinking tenor that Sheeran shares with Badly Drawn Boy’s protagonist Damon Gough, it could be the song that opens him up to the ever-present market for a soul whose sensitive enough to tug on the heartstrings, but not wrought enough to tear them.
House Of Jacks does, though, occasionally fall victim to Dunlop’s desire not to pigeonhole himself into a solitary genre. The title track is a forgettable number whose chord changes have a Coldplay-like predictability, while The Ballad Of Enzo Laviano is memorable not for its beguiling topic of an Italian footballer, on the eve of a move from his hometown club, but for a needless rendition of OK Computer’s prog tones.
House Of Jacks is a fine effort from a talented songwriter, one whose influences allow him to branch out from the confines of traditional folk composition. And with a voice that has the poignancy of a cry sinking down a well, Blair Dunlop has real potential for mainstream affection.
Verdict: Versatile folk with mainstream potential