BLAIR DUNLOP – House of Jacks (Rooksmere Records, RRCD112P)

Blair_Dunlop_-House_of_Jacks_Son of Ashley Hutchings he may be, but ‘Something’s Gonna Give Way’, the riff driven opening track on his sophomore album, firmly suggests the influences of Seth Lakeman and, more pointedly, especially in the third person narrative murder ballad lyrics about school bullying revenge, Richard Thompson.

In tender musical contrast, the fiddle-soothed ‘Fifty Shades Of Blue’ is a slow waltzing meditation on denial that (soaring vocal intro recalling Chris De Burgh) gives way to a title track anchored to the heart and its sometime inability to articulate the depth of its feelings. Clearly not a songwriter to settle for simplistic clichés and the mundane, ‘Chain By Design’ is a simple acoustic slow march exploration of determinism and free will, the more progressive folk rock sonorous, organ underpinned ‘Different Schools’ addressing the need for and barriers to communication and, inspired by Robert Hasting’s poem and, set to a scurrying fingerpicked rhythm, ‘The Station’ muses on life’s journey to its final destination and appreciating the scenery along the way.

Even football serves as a philosophical springboard as nimble fingerpicked guitar instrumental Viola’s Reverie paves the way for The Ballad of Enzo Laviano, the tale of a young Italian footballer (Dunlop a supporter of Spurs and ACF Fiorentina) from a small Sardinian club about to transfer to Naples, a story of difficult choices and decisions (complete with a Godfather reference) etched to Morricone-moody Thompsonesque slow burn bluesy guitar notes.

Perhaps not quite so intellectually weighty, two numbers share the title 45s, a brace of songs about the same fictional Soho nightclub; the first (c69), a bustling snapshot of the 60s London folk scene that namechecks The Kinks, Dylan and (in a somewhat scornful reference) Jackson C Frank, with the music, the pills and a prince and pauper equality where no one cared “if you were loaded or you’re broke”. The second, (c14), brings it up to date with a memorable melody, catchy chorus, Knopfleresque guitar line and a rather more cynical portrait of a sticky floor, self-serving egos, VIP fast tracking, vacuous songs and a clientele of 16 year olds that ensures “a small guy like me sets themselves for a fall”.

Produced by Mark Hutchinson who also contributes guitar alongside such musicians as Guy Fletcher, Tim Harries and Larkin Poe’s Rebecca Lovell, the album ends with the only non-original, the simple voice and guitar ‘Song Of Two Bridges’, a cover of a track penned by his father and erstwhile Albion Band colleague Ken Nicol, a touching acknowledgement of his roots on an album that firmly points to his future.

Mike Davies

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