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Blair Dunlop - House of Jacks (Rooksmere)

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It's punchy folk rock right from the start on Blair Dunlop's second solo studio album, the eagerly anticipated follow up 2012's BLIGHT AND BLOSSOM. Once again teaming up with producer Mark Hutchinson, Blair appears to be stretching out as a potentially important British songwriter with some highly personal songs, not least the title song which sees the singer, songwriter and guitarist wearing his heart most definitely on his sleeve. With the opening song picking up where the Albion Band left off, Something's Gonna Give Way employs the same sort of hard driving folk rock arrangement that his dad's old sparring partners once used sometime between the Summer of Love and the miasma of the late 1970s, whilst addressing issues of prejudice from an outsider's perspective with devastating results. 

Nostalgia weaves an interesting thread through some of the songs, with 45s (c.69) loaded with popular culture references of the day, the day of course being sometime in the late 1960s, known only too well to those who claim to have 'been there' yet also to those like Blair who demonstrate enough interest to re-discover this pivotal time in our history, where 'getting high once the needle drops' was almost a daily routine. It may be nostalgic but it's certainly not sentimental, reminiscent of Bert Jansch's description of the Soho folk troubadour scene of the Les Cousins era on his song Daybreak. Blair returns to this theme later in the album with 45s (c14), bringing us bang up to date but describing a slightly less evocative era.

If the title song House of Jacks and the equally tender Fifty Shades of Blue both reveal a sense of vulnerability, then Different Schools demonstrates a certain strength with one of the most solid vocal performances on the album, whilst addressing the problems we seem to have in communicating with one another, yet communicating this firmly and with a mature arrangement to go with it. Perhaps this indicates the direction the former Albion Band front man takes in future.    
Concluding with the one non-original song on the album, Song of Two Bridges, written by Ashley Hutchings and Ken Nicol, Blair ends on a note of tender contemplation, returning to the one man one guitar format. Elsewhere on the album Blair is joined by Tim Harries on bass, Guy Fletcher on drums, violin and mandolin, Jacob Stoney on keyboards, Mark Hutchinson on guitars, backing vocals and percussion, Angharad Jenkins on violin, Larkin Poe's Rebecca Lovell providing some backing vocals and Simon Care on melodeon; a fine team of players who may well have contributed to one of the finest albums of the year.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky
Radio Play: Something's Gonna Give Way (Show 318/31.03.14)
Radio Play: 45s (c69) (Show 320 14.04.14)
Release Date: 26.05.14
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