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This is, on the face of it, an unlikely combination of talents. Duke Special (Peter Wilson) is an alternative rock, soul and folk singer-songwriter-pianist who’s best known for his 2006 platinum-selling album, Songs From The Deep Forest, whereas Belfast-based trio Ulaid is a crack instrumental outfit comprising three of Ireland’s most renowned folk musicians (uilleann pipes and whistle player John McSherry, fiddler Dónal O’Connor and guitarist Seán Óg Graham of Beoga). What the two acts have in common is an essentially meditative, contemplative musical styling, in the shaping of melodic lines especially; one that positively encourages thoughtful listening. This approach extends into the disc’s three instrumental items (Far Set, El Garrotin and the joyfully syncopated Little Italy), which though executed at a brisk tempo feel suitably unhurried and yet full of empathic spontaneity. The latter characteristic also pervades the musicians’ playing when fulfilling a purely accompanimental role, giving that aspect another essential dimension.

On A Note Let Go, Duke Special and Ulaid have created a kind of musical homage to Belfast, its history and stories, developing an understanding of living there at this time. Duke Special gains most of his inspiration from poems found in collections such as that of Belfast antiquarian Francis J. Bigger. In his settings or adaptations of these sources, there’s usually a pronounced element of storytelling, whether recounting a class struggle (The Poet’s Mission) or providing a historical depiction of a locality (Shipyards Of Belfast), and as a result each song is rather like a novella. Although the organic approach is consistent, some songs seem more successful in integrating the musical elements, with the sense of flow and structure on pieces like Lon Dubh Loch Lao probably the most impressive (as reflected in the rapturous applause from the audience – the album was recorded live in concert at a studio near Rathfriland). The final pair of selections, billed as bonus tracks, include a compelling (if unexpectedly animated) take on the traditional My Lagan Love that seems to bridge the centuries – some achievement – and the aforementioned Asturian dance makes for an ideal – and energetic – encore.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 122 of The Living Tradition magazine.