Album Review: NOTES FROM AN ISLAND by Blair Dunlop


NOTES FROM AN ISLAND marks Blair Dunlop’s most mature work to date as well as his most accessible

Blair Dunlop may only be 26 but the award-winning singer-songwriter has already cemented his place as one of Britain’s most exciting folk talents. In the past four years, Dunlop has released three studio albums, two EPs and has toured extensively around the globe, with his latest solo album NOTES FROM AN ISLAND marking his best work to date.

For those new to the name, Blair Dunlop is a British singer-songwriter and guitarist best known on the folk music scene. As the son of singer Judy Dunlop and folk-rock musician Ashley Hutchings (formerly a member of Fairport Convention), Dunlop has grown up with music in his bones and first made an impact on British music scene with reborn The Albion Band in 2011 before becoming a solo artist. In 2013, he won the Horizon Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and has also received the Special Jury Prize of the Premio Ciampi in the city of Livorno in Italy in November 2014.

NOTES FROM AN ISLAND is Dunlop’s fourth studio album following BLIGHT AND BLOSSOM (2012), HOUSE OF JACKS (2014) and GILDED (2016). It’s clear from the outset that NOTES FROM AN ISLAND represents a shift musically for Dunlop and while the 26-year-old has not neglected his folk roots entirely, the new album certainly boasts a broader appeal than his previous material, with rock and pop influences coming through in his music.

The opening number SPICES FROM THE EAST instantly sets the tone with its atmospheric percussion, beautifully picked guitar and tender vocal delivery. Musically and metaphorically layered, this track stands out for its exquisitely textured musical arrangement and, as the melancholic tone of FENG SHUI follows, it soon becomes clear that we are in for a richer palette of songs with NOTES FROM AN ISLAND with greater confidence both musically and lyrically.

Wearing his heart on his sleeve, the complexities of relationships – both positive in negative – are dissected and laid bare here with Dunlop’s lyrics boasting a maturity beyond his years. Even the witty SWEET ON YOU, a light-hearted country/folk love song which is apparently based on personal experience, mingles the sweet with the sour as sour he reflects on the skin-deep qualities of a previous girlfriend.

Blair Dunlop NOTES FROM AN ISLAND Album Cover

The mood shifts to a bluesy ambience for I DO, with its plangent piano notes, soft bass and sparse drum beat. Its themes of separation, loss and regret also flow into the folksier ONE AND THE SAME, a melancholy track which utilises the supporting musicians to the full.

The second half of the album sees a move both musically and lyrically as the mood flows seamlessly from light to dark and back again. There is a more subdued feel in the stripped back WITHIN MY CITADEL with its fingerpicking guitar work. This easy groove continues on NOTHING GOOD, a slow waltz ballad which paves the way for THREADBARE, a catchy track with a Fleetwood Mac styled rhythm section.

It is here that we also see a shift in subject matter, as Dunlop shifts to political commentary in GREEN LIQUOR, a folk number with a choppy percussive guitar rhythm which examines how London properties sit empty alongside the homeless, WED TO ARMS, a post-Brexit metaphor with throwbacks to folk-rock influences and PALLET AND BRUSH, a beautifully conceived song which showcases Dunlop’s fine guitar skills. The album closes with the intimate COBALT BLUE, reflecting on Dunlop’s increasing affinity for Australia, as denoted in part of the album art.

Intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully arranged, NOTES FROM AN ISLAND marks Dunlop’s most mature work to date as well as his most accessible. Using his talents as an outstanding guitarist and an emotionally persuasive singer, Dunlop has skillfully crafted an album that not only acknowledges his folk roots but also delivers sharp-edged songs destined for commercial crossover. A strong release from an exciting young artist.

4 out of 5 stars

NOTES FROM AN ISLAND by Blair Dunlop is released on Gilded Wings Records on 18 May 2018