Gilded - Blair Dunlop
I've enjoyed Blair's work since his first release Blight and Blossom. Now I sit to write this I should actually play that back to back with House of Jacks (his sophomore effort) and Gilded, it'd be interesting to compare them as he has developed. Who is Blair? Well his dad is Ashley Hutchings which if you know anything about British Folk Rock is something of a legend in that genre having been a key member of Fairport Convention, Steeley Span and the leader of The Albion Band for years. Having his Dad's connections helps with people like Martin Simpson and Richard Thompson being amongst those who've tutored/mentored Blair. Oh yes, if you are a film buff Blair played the young Willy Wonker in the Tim Burton remake of the Roald Dahl classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
What about this one then? Well it is a move into more rockier less folk territory with more electric guitar, similar to the last Albion Band offering when Blair took over leadership of that band from his dad. However the fundamental song structure and format, namely songs with a story, maintains that British Folk feel. There is more bite to some of the lyrics, I read an interview in Acoustic magazine where Blair joked that he was 24 now and was supposed to be angry.
Castello kicks off with a strummed acoustic (btw Blair uses Tanglewood Masterdesign models). The song builds with drums, bass and some stonking organ with some terrific lyrics - the Manchester and Joy Division mentions are terrific. By the end of that track you already know this is going to be a top album.
Other highlights for me are First World Problem which has the best electric playing from Blair on the album and can see this being a firm live favourite for a long time to come with a sing a long hook line and it's buck the system sentiment. Up on Craigside is another one that kicks off just Blair and his acoustic which then builds under I'll kick against the rat race lyrics which I really like how he pictured the story.Eternal Optimist and The Egoist are other good tracks. In fact there isn't any filler anywhere covering any cracks. I thoroughly recommend you give it a listen - it is up on Spotify for those who use that.
Live the Farewell Tour - Bellowhead.
The world is a duller less good place since on 1st May 2016 Bellowhead played their last ever gig at the site of their first one 12 years before in Oxford. Sadly the Bellowhead story is over as Jon Boden the lead singer, main arranger and focal point of live performances decided that he wanted to move in other directions and wouldn't continue in the 11 piece group. The group understandably decided that without Jon there could be no Bellowhead and thus sadly they are no no more. This double CD and DVD combo (bargain at only £15!) is therefore their final hurrah.
It captures what made Bellowhead such an exciting and loved act. Let's just think about it. Say I wrote on here that I planned to form an 11 piece folk band with a bunch of multi-instrumentalists, all who are great vocalists, the line up to include woodwind in the form of oboe, bass clarinet, sax and brass like trombone, trumpet and the bass handled by brass low instruments mostly a Helicon. For good measure most of the groups repetitive would be old folk songs and sea shanties. I think many of you would smile and think me deluded. But given any tour of Bellowhead is normally sold out in minutes in venues most top folk acts would never dream of filling the bizarre notion was incredibly successful.
The collection of songs spans the bands recorded output. The top ones for me are Roll Alabama, Haul Away, Let Union Be, Roll the Woodpile Down, Let Her Run, London Town and New York Girls... but I struggled to get the list that short! The DVD is well shot and captures the energy and fun the band clearly have in every performance. It is a great shame that they are no more but this is a really fitting finale and tribute to them. As I pointed out the cost of a double CD and DVD combo is a phenomenal bargain. Again it's on Spotify to listen to... esp my USA readers if you never heard them go see what good UK folk can sound like - trust me you'll be dancing in you huge USA kitchen whilst cooking waffles wishing you were English and had like me been privileged to see this lot live before they were gone.