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Duke Special | CD review | 2012

DUKE SPECIAL - Oh Pioneer (Adventures in Gramophone - 18/06/12)

Review by Dawn

We’re not even halfway through 2012 but here’s an early contender for album of the year from the utterly mesmerising Duke Special.

The dreadlocked music maker from Belfast alternates between grabbing deep into the heart of you with his emotive, spine-tingling voice, and provoking goosebumps with his moving melodies. A new sound jumps out at you every single time you play the album, while the intricate lyrics alone beg for listen after listen just to be unravelled.

It’s an eclectic mix of genres, from the Ghost Town vibe of Snakes in the Grass to the military rhythm of My Lazy Saviour, and yet nothing jars or jolts - everything sits perfectly alongside everything else.

Duke, aka Peter Wilson, has dipped his toe into the waters of many, many projects over the last few years – from documentaries about Ruby Murray to the theatrical world of Mother Courage – but has kept a foot in the music world all along with numerous recordings to accompany his varied endeavours. They all encompass some striking work, but in a slightly selfish way it’s great to have him back in the form of his first straightforward ‘commercial’ long player since 2008’s I Never Thought This Day Would Come – and it’s certainly worth the wait.

No-one in the music world has a voice quite like that of Duke Special. Every time he reaches for the high notes he also reaches deep into your soul and shakes the very heart of you (best demonstrated here on How I Learned to Love the Sun, Stargazers of the World Unite and Always Been There). And it’s not just the stirring Belfast lilt which breaks your heart but the lush instrumentation on songs such as Lost Chord and Nothing Shall Come Between Us.

If you listen through headphones you spot a whole new world of delights and nuances such as the crackle of a record player and too many enchanting noises to mention. If you listen whilst driving, when the journey ends you don’t want to get out of the car because you don’t want to stop listening. The stripped back band which has accompanied Duke on his first tour of this album speaks volumes about the strength of the songs it comprises – they’re less outwardly dramatic and far more intricate and intimate than previous offerings, holding possibly Peter’s most detailed lyrics yet. And that’s not to do disservice to any of his earlier work, but the striking Condition has both clever and unusual rhyming couplets at its heart and a wonderfully rousing climax, while Punch of a Friend is as carefully written and as beautiful as the book it’s based on (East of Eden).

Oh Pioneer is imbued with a sense of wanderlust, love and, more than anything, an already accomplished artist truly honing his craft. The album notes for Always Been There read “An attempt to put into words the longing which seems to attach itself to all of us. Impossible.” Similarly, even after numerous plays it’s impossible to put into words just how close to perfection this album is. You need to listen to it. Preferably on headphones!


With thanks to Peter and Jonny. Oh Pioneer is released 18/06/12. Visit dukespecial.com for more information.


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