CD Review – Blair Dunlop “Blight & Blossom”
There is something very pleasing about batons being passed from one generation to the next, especially if the handover is clean. So there is a frisson of pleasure to be found in “Blight & Blossom”, the first full album from Blair Dunlop, 20 year-old son of British folk rock great Ashley Hutchings.
It is a crisp, beautifully arranged album of songs that range from some traditional British folk to contemporary ballads. It is a great listen for those who like updated country folk and gentle singer-songwriter odes backed by solid musicianship.
Some songs – notably the opening track “Secret Theatre” – are refreshingly reminiscent of Pentangle, the British folk-jazz band from the ’60s and ’70s. An arrangement of the traditional “Black is the Colour” is a haunting affair helped along by lovely vocals from Rebecca Lovell from Larkin Poe, the U.S. folk rock act. Dunlop says he wanted a transatlantic flavour because the song is deeply embedded in both Scottish and Appalachian culture. Some dreamy piano work from Dunlop on “The Gown” pulls you into a sad ballad based on the Mormon idea that women become immortalised as angels when they die. This one doesn’t.
Dunlop, understandably, is said to be keen not to be seen just as his father’s son. He clearly shouldn’t be. But you can’t get away from who you are. His dad – founding member of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band – does contribute some bass on one song and Hutchings’ bandmate and contemporary Richard Thompson gave Dunlop the excellent “Seven Brothers” for the album.
Hutchings has also handed over the reins of “The Albion Band” to his son, who is running it with a gaggle of young players. Folk Trek: The Next Generation, if you like.
That said, Dunlop’s first full CD solo outing (Rooksmere Records) stands on its own. This is no copy of dad’s work.
It is not flawless, of course. Dunlop’s voice had a lovely soft touch to it with just the appropriate amount of nasal twang for the genre (almost like Dougie MacLean at times). But it is young – not surprisingly – and at times lacks a rawness that surely will come with future productions.
But for now, this will do nicely, thank you.