A Note Let Go blends the theatrical showmanship of Duke Special with the accomplished folk musicianship of Ulaid. The two combine like oil and vinegar, never quite becoming one but creating a satisfying synthesis nonetheless. Focused on Belfast, with songs sourced from a local collection, A Note Let Go feels genuinely grounded.
The city’s history and musical traditions provide a thematic backdrop to A Note Let Go. Lon Dubh Loch Lao is the first recorded reference to Belfast and its location on the Lough. A gentle, romantic number, Duke Special provides the vocal mystery while Ulaid add a dreamy timelessness.
The haunting Shipyards of Belfast balances a reflective lyric with more purpose-driven instrumental. This ironic assignment of roles, the contemporary Duke Special providing the nostalgia while traditionalists Ulaid feel more forward-looking, runs throughout A Note Let Go.
The Chartist The Poet’s Mission has the air of a stadium anthem: that believe-in-yourself message, here with a workers’ hero edge. Duke Special’s vocal and piano crescendo into Ulaid’s assertive musicianship.
Burn the Sun is similarly strident yet also laid back and unhurried. The song addresses Lord Castereagh, who at the time it was written had just put down the 1798 rebellion. There is a relaxed defiance to both the lyrics and their delivery here. Claudius is another song addressing a major character of the rebellion.
On Account of My Dog Fido, a lament to a fallen best friend, demonstrates Duke Special’s sense of theatrics. Almost a show tune, it’s tough to tell whether it is tongue in cheek or is tugging just a little too hard at the heartstrings.
Far Set brings a gear shift, with an upbeat and driven collection of three traditional tunes. The piano nevertheless holds its own as Ulaid’s Donal O’Connor, John McSherry and Sean Og Graham showcase their talent.
Little Italy sees Duke Special’s rhythmic piano lead the band in way that is very reminiscent of jazz master Dave Brubeck. Not quite a headbanger, it will certainly get you nodding along. El Garrotin is the only track not from Irish stock, but it is another foot-tapper nonetheless.
Above all, A Note Let Go demonstrates that the archives are still packed with exciting and versatile material. Duke Special and Ulaid have put a local collection to good use to create an album that is genuinely of and about Belfast.Christopher C Leslie
Self-released on 27 July 2017.
1. The Poet’s Mission
2. Burn the Sun
3. Shipyards of Belfast
4. Far Set
5. On Account of My Dog Fido
7. Little Italy
8. Lon Dubh Loch Lao
Bonus Tracks Reviewed
9. My Lagan Love
10. El Garrotin