Thursday, November 9, 2006

Something special

duke specialMy sister and her boyfriend (who have just left for an 18-month round the world trip, the bastards) have been raving about a new singer from Northern Ireland for absolutely ages. But being a musical snob who thinks he knows better than anyone else - hence this blog - I roundly ignored their recommendations and carried on merrily with my life.

Crushingly, it turns out they were right all along and this guy - Duke Special - is really something, er, special.

My initial impression was that he sounded like Sufjan Stevens with an Ulster accent. But, in the interests of accuracy, I listened to a bit of Stevens' last album this morning and discovered that I was, once again, quite wrong. Drat! And double drat!

While Special does share some qualities with Stevens - most notably the bruised, romantic lyrics and lush string arrangements - he carves his own niche with a touch of ragtime piano and orchestral swing that calls to mind Gershwin and, perhaps, Rufus Wainwright.

You might also have noticed that his image is a bit more Lister out of Red Dwarf than the immaculately-coiffeured Michigan musician. The Duke calls it "hobo chic". I'd go with "unkempt" myself.

He's been gigging around Ireland for years, which is where my sister discovered him. He put out a couple of EPs on local label Hag Records, which were a bit rough round the edges, but now he's been signed to V2 (home of Liberty X!) and re-recorded the best bits.

The resulting CD, Songs From The Deep Forest, is beautiful. Stand-out tracks include Last Night I Nearly Died, Freewheel and new song No Cover Up. It'll make a great winter album - perfect for listening to curled up in a smoky room with a glass of port in one hand and a classic Dickens novel in the other, while young urchins press their nose against the frosty window pane, begging for scraps.

It'll still be alright if you listen to it on the bus home to Brixton, but I recommend recreating the above tableau if at all possible.

In the meantime, here's some footage of Mr Special performing Portrait on Jools Holland last week:

  • Duke Special's website
  • Buy the album on Amazon

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