Released early in 2016 - Gilded - the third album by Blair Dunlop finds him in superb form. Following on from his debut Blight & Blossom and his sophomore release House Of Jacks, album number three - Gilded - shows how much Blair has developed as a songwriter and performer.
Initially bracketed in the Folk genre, Blair has worked hard over the three albums to show that he has much more in his locker. And with Gilded he has thrown off the shackles and has, (excuse the pun), 'blossomed' into a singer/songwriter more akin to his West Coast heroes such as Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell.
The young man has even formed his own record label, Gilded Wings, (taken from his song Temper Your Smiling), on which Gilded is released.
Italy is never far away from Blair's heart and indeed the opening track, Castello, again brings a taste of sunlight into the observations of his story telling style - one aspect of his folk roots that will serve him well as his career develops in the future. Describing an encounter with a young lady on one of his tours, it's a delicious opener to an absolutely gorgeous album.
The album was recorded with very much a 'live' band vibe in Manchester's Blueprint Studios and with regular cohorts Fred Claridge on Drums & Percussion, Jacob Stoney on Keyboards and Tim Thomas on Bass.
She Won't Cry For Me rises and falls like waves on a beach as it shines a light on Blair's more romantic side as he ruminates about love and relationships - something that is never far away in his thoughts.
Courtesy of BlairDunlop.com
She Won't Cry For Me
Never scared to shy away from social comment, Blair quietly lets rip on Third World Problem, which features some lovely organ work from Jacob and focuses on today's industrial farming methods. And a sudden stop which will make you check your cd player.
It's amazing how the small everyday incidents can come to life in songs. With the jaunty 356, Blair describes a trip to a local car dealership near his now London home. The car in question is a Porsche 356 and the story is beautifully told.
Temper Your Smiling finds Blair in fine voice as his voice uses his falsetto in a pleading and epic 6 minute ballad. A key feature of the song is the splendid keyboard touches on organ and piano provided by Jacob Stoney which provides a counterpoint to the sensual, slow pace.
photo courtesy of Nick Baker
Blair also has a penchant for looking to history for subjects for his songs and next up comes Up On Cragside, about Lord William George Armstrong, the 19th Century entrepreneur. It may sound as dry as a bone but it's one of my favourite songs on the album.
Up On Cragside
photo courtesy of Nick Baker
Eternal Optimist is at the moment my favourite song on the album. It's a beautiful shuffle with flourishes of piano and electric guitar against a lovely off beat which shows that Blair has more than one trick up his sleeve in his sonic explorations.
Let's Dance To Paganini is an acoustic song that Jackson Browne would be proud of and would sit well on any one of his early 70s album. It's great to see Blair looking to wider influences in his search for his own journey. One thing that gets better on each album is Blair's flair with a lyric. He's never been June, Moon, Spoon but with stories to tell and emotions to expose, it's becoming a major feature of his work.
This year, BBC Radio 2 came knocking at Blair's door as it playlisted the next song on the album, the ever so catchy, The Egoist. With a lovely three note phrase, the song hooks you and twirls you around it's delicate finger. Again, it features some lovely falsetto touches from Blair.
No Go Zones is a reaction to US news reports that parts of the UK are now 'No Go Zones' due to immigration here in the UK. And Blair doesn't pull his punches. Showing his finger picking panache, it's an iron fist of an acoustic song presented in a velvet glove. And a beautiful thing it is too. Very much in a Woody Guthrie vain.
No Go Zones
I Don't Know is another of Blair's gorgeous light and airy pleading ballads with the cymbals crashing like waves with a lovely pulsing bass running throughout the song. It almost beats like a heart. I think it's the most atmospheric track on the album and it's gone before you know it. Like a British summer.
Phoenix closes the album in style. It's a slow burner of a song which brings together all of the features of the album. Lovely electric guitar work, a touch of falsetto, throbbing bass by Tim Thomas, beautiful cymbal work from Fred Claridge and sympathetic piano work from Jacob Stoney.
I can't believe how much Blair Dunlop has grown as an artist over these three albums. And he's still very much a young man. What's he going to achieve in his later years? He has the potential to be another Jackson Browne or indeed a Leonard Cohen. I only hope I'm around sufficiently long enough to see him able to take his place up there with the best the UK has to offer. He IS that special and we should cherish him.
Twitter - @BlairDunlop