Heart’s Roulette is available at:
Folk; Americana; Indie-Folk
Vocals, Guitars and Percussion: John Lennon
Bass: Dave Buttner
Clarinet, Backing Vocals: Sarah Gallagher
Fiddle: Eileen O’Driscoll
Banjo: Lily Gems
The album, Hello World, is available at:
20th March, 2017
All songs written by John Lennon.
Recorded from August 2016 to February 2017 at The Windmill in Dublin. Additional recordings at The Cottage in Aillebrack, Rory & Lily’s in Sallynoggin and Damo’s in Glasthule.
Mixed by Tony Harris (tracks 1, 3, 4, 5) and Damien Walsh (tracks 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).
Mastered by Fergal Davis.
Lighthouse at Point Reyes by Briano.
Art Direction and Photography by Céline O’Donnell.
THIS weekend, I get to look at two male artists who…
hail from the same sort of part of the world. It is great to subject myself to Irish music and, in this case, Blake’s Fortune. That is the moniker of Dublin-born John Lennon so, as you can imagine, using his real name might have been a bit confusing – or else led to some lofty expectations. There are few, in the world of music, that do things quite like him. I will come to John Lennon’s creative half in a minute but, right now, I will address a few subjects. Among them is Americana and Folk music; Dublin music and venues there; wishful/romantic music; male singer-songwriters and standing out from the crowd – artists who can provide beauty and lyrical/compositional range on debut albums. I will end things with social media and upping the visual side of music, too. I often get to look at Folk music and its various incarnations. I am not sure what it is but the genre is starting to grow. Artists are bonding with it and, like no other time in modern music, it is seeing more recruits than ever. To me, it represents a freedom and flexibility that most genres do not. There are those who say Folk is quite a boring and specialist medium. I would argue against that but, taking their side, suggest one could not listen to a lot of like-minded Folk artists for too long. By that, those performers who play rather placid and calm music – sounds meant to soothe and seduce the soul. It can be difficult listening to songwriters who do not get out of second-gear but, in the case of Blake’s Fortune; there is such a variation and depth one doesn’t fall into that trap. Yes, there is a lot of romance and tenderness but other sides to the artists. Recently, I investigated Folk and how multifarious it is.
One does not necessarily have to see it as an off-putting brand of music. We all have our tastes but Folk cannot be accused of being predictable and limited – not anymore, anyway! What Blake’s Fortune does is show what you can do by keeping Folk pure and modern. There are Americana roots that, interestingly, are coming into British music a lot more. Whilst we refute their world leaders, attitudes and negatives – we are embracing American music a lot more. Hip-Hop from the U.S. is assimilating into British culture more readily and Folk is taking a lot from America. Maybe that is not a shock, also. John Lennon, like many artists, is inspired by the best and brightest of U.S. Folk. I know Dublin is not in Britain but forgive my eager typing – you know what I mean! What I find, when listening to Lennon’s music, is someone who has immersed himself in Americana and Folk from a young age. There are many Folk contemporaries who limit themselves to a certain style but Blake’s Fortune is an outfit that has a lot to say; so many different stories that suit the full expanse and range of modern music. Why I wanted to look at Folk/Americana is how agile and popular it is. One cannot accuse it of being for acquired tastes. As the mainstream remains rooted in commercialism and a Pop sound: away from that, there are so many young Folk artists updating the genre and lending their voice. I feel, unlike other types of music, one is able to project an array of emotions without having to leap between genres. Folk/Americana have malleability and is attractive because of its freedom and potential. Blake’s Fortune enters a busy market that is as competitive and hostile as any other time. I mentioned how busy Folk music is becoming and that needs to be addressed. We are seeing so many different artists come into the genre and provide their own take. It might be scary for a young artist to join the fray but, as he shows, one can carve their own empire if they do not replicate and copycat.
This might be the first time I have looked at a Dublin Folk artist this year. That might sound like a niche issue but many overlook the joys and potential of the city. Recently, I hosted Pillow Queens at The Finsbury in London. They are a girl group that rock hard and have the promise to ascend to the mainstream in years to come. Brilliant live; fantastic songwriters with a tight connection – few bands have the attributes and qualities they do. They are among a small selection of artists that genuinely have something different about them. Having Blake’s Fortune before me allows my mind to go to Dublin and the great music coming from there right now. Hare Squad and Bad Sea are two Dublin acts that, between them, offer energy, bangers and longevity. The former is an Electronic act making a name for themselves in E.I.R.E. The latter, a more contemplative and charmed. Their music has Folk embers but mixes Country and Aaliyah-like R&B into the fold. Saint Sister have links to Derry and Belfast but have that Dublin base. They are a terrific duo that has been touring the U.K. and Europe the past couple of months. True originals that have the opportunity to go as far as they want. Throw in the boys of Orchid Collective and one has a band that mixes Fleet Foxes-esque harmonies and Folk-Rock brilliance. I particularly love Farah Elle and all she promises. She has Libyan heritage and mixes that with flecks of R&B, Reggae, Ska and Pop: a brilliant artist who has a lot more to say. The urban realities of life are presented by Burnt Out. Their name might be an apt description of their lyrics and worldview. Songs address the harsh realities of the city and the kind of people they have encountered. The North Dublin guys have only a few songs under their belt but are another band to watch carefully.
The same can be said for TooFools whose membership expands – depending on whether they play live or record – and mix Funk, Soul and Stomp. Eden is a fantastic artist who has seen his fanbase expand and music take off. He has completed worldwide tours and is one of the most popular and promising new artists in Ireland. That is merely a reflection of the kind of act one can experience in the country. I did not include links to their social media but you can investigate for yourself. I did not want to distract one from Blake’s Fortune and what he is producing. I often think the quality of a city’s/country’s music depends on the people and the culture. Dublin is renowned for its friendliness, warmth and wit. It is an encouraging landscape for musicians and, as I shall show in the conclusion, full of great venues and sites. A fabulous city that is promoting and raising some future stars. I can understand why Lennon is based there and why his music has the character, heart and quality it does. Other areas like London, for example, have their own brand – and is immensely varied – but there is something unique about Dublin. I have discovered few areas that have that exceptional genre-fusion and immense quality. Maybe it is to do with the people and the fact musicians feel supported and hopeful. If one feels they will be successful and get long-term support; their music is going to be that much stronger and solid. I have not been to Dublin myself but know, from reports people send back, what a place it is. There is a loyal and tight-knit music community that is encouraging its inhabitants to remain there – rather than come over to England and live here. Blake’s Fortune has many Folk/Americana compatriots but, when it comes to his combination of sounds/emotions, there are few like him.
One might look at John Lennon and assume they have him all figured out. The hirsute musician strikes you as a Badly Drawn Boy-esque act whose music will be beautiful and appealing – but lack the marrow of diversity, energy and edginess. Hello World, by its title implications alone, is an album that welcomes people in and has a positive disposition. There are some more introverted and moody moments but, largely, the music has an optimism and hopefulness. That is reflected in the ambition and flexibility of Lennon as a writer. He switches genres and ensures his songs never become too repetitive and predictable. Not only does he keep the compositions interchangeable and broad but carries that over into his lyrics. On his album, from the opening number, there is that sense of emotional space and recuperation. Hiatus is, literally, the man spending time away from home and getting a break – returning and finding himself refreshed and rejuvenated. Other tracks look at romance and something tender and pure. I shall look at a particular track from the album but, if one goes to his BandCamp page – link is at the bottom of this review – you can read the lyrics and the stunning wordplay at work. Scanning the words and one finds senatorial dignity and curious come-on; beautifully weaving poetry and incredible imagery. Blake’s Fortune reminds me of Nick Drake and his incredible songwriting. You only need read the lyrics and you can immerse yourself and picture the scenes. The best part of the lyrics, to me, is the romance and the angle Lennon puts on the trope. That is an appropriate word because a lot of songwriters, when addressing longing and passion, tend not to differentiate themselves from the pack. Here, one discovers an artist who casts from his own experience and makes sure his words contain no clichés and stereotypes. There are few who project the same majesty and beauty as John Lennon. From my perspective, having affection for someone and pining for a person I cannot have, I find a lot of comfort and solace in the work of Blake’s Fortune. The words provide a sense of hope and guidance. One, when intoxicated by the relentlessness of love, need answers and clarity. When listening to the songs throughout Hello World; not only did I find answers to some arresting questions but some perspective and hope. I will not go into the details of my predicament but am glad I have discovered Blake’s Fortune. Wistfulness and romance and words that might balk some; get under the skin in a bad way – assuming the music will be soppy and cloying. A lot of artists do write that way but there is a real intelligence, dignity and depth to Hello World.
Listen to the album in full and one is enriched, enlivened and encouraged. Few can deny the incredible voice of John Lennon helps embolden and define his lyrics. It is the songwriting that, in many artists, is overlooked. We look at the surface and sound but rarely dig down to the core. Whether that indicates a lack of interesting songwriters – and whether they are saying anything original – or a naivety, I am not sure. I feel too many take songwriters at face-value and do not spend time looking underneath the bonnet, as it were. When listening to Blake’s Fortune; those words are as instrumental and effective as anything. The genre of Folk/Americana is a crowded one and so, for that reason, one cannot be lazy and complacent with their music. Blake’s Fortune has a style that many can apply to others but, when seeking that U.S.P., it only takes a brief sip of the opening track (of the album) and there is that hit. The fact John Lennon takes in many different sounds and styles keeps the songs unexpected and innovative. I find many artists last a short time because they do not take the trouble to study and see what people want. Maybe they are obsessed by commercialism and replicate mainstream acts: some go the other way and try to be unique – but lack any identity and focus. It is tough coming into music and creating music sustainable, interesting and enduring. Such is the capricious and ever-changing nature of tastes; it is challenging discovering what people want. Blake’s Fortune is unconcerned about hollow fame but he wants that credibility and respect as a songwriter. Because of that, his music comes from the heart but is not exclusive. It is intended for the people and welcomes the listener in. I will touch on this subject in greater depth later but, for now, a nod to the male singer-songwriters.
One of the most noticeable fashions/trends in modern music is the switch in genre and tastes. People are becoming bolder and broader with their music choices and not rely on the charts to tell them what to like. Also, one sees the shift from bands dominating: female artists are taking a lot of ground and influence from the chaps. This is good to see and, whilst this quality and talent is not translated into festival headliners, there is evidence to suggest changes will occur down the line. Once was the time male bands were all the rage and dominating the landscape. I am not sure what one can attribute the change to but I am discovering a lot of female acts replace them. That means the male singer-songwriter, by comparison, gets less attention. I am not suggesting the male singer-songwriter is weaker and less important but I am finding fewer examples that can match their female peers. This is good in regards gender equality but suggests there are issues inherent that need addressing. I feel a lot of the best female artists are solo acts. Not to stereotype, but certain genres have particular dynamics. Grime and Hip-Hop tend to have a greater number of black artists; Folk more white artists; one can look at various genres and know what the demographic will look like. Pop, Folk and Electronic music are starting to eek greater reactions than modern Rock and Indie. These styles, when bands dominated, were favoured but right now there is a structural weakening and lack of motivation. I find the finest new Pop and Folk artists are women. The reason for this, I think, is because of the voice and music approach. The sheer beauty and comfort from the voice; the vocal range and the lyrical balance of warmth and physicality. That is a generalised and simplistic definition but I notice a real difference between male and female songwriters.
One finds more range, diversity and nuance with female artists. Folk and Pop are genres that have so much room for manoeuvre – they are exploiting this and making some real strides. Look at newcomers like Phoebe Bridgers and that says everything, really. In a way, she reminds me of Billie Marten – maybe Bridgers came first – and has that sweet and impactful vocal. She is a young songwriter but has older shoulders. Listen to her music and she talks about older bands and strange romance; quirkiness and an insight into her day-to-day life. You jump into the music and stand alongside Bridgers. She is someone to watch closely and one of many incredible female songwriters that have something very special about them. I am finding fewer male comparisons: those who possess the same quality, talent and range. Maybe I am not looking hard enough but I do not think I am wrong. Blake’s Fortune is one of a promising brand of musicians that have the chance to steal back some focus. I feel one of the reasons for the gender discrepancies is the way artists look at life and love. They are solid foundations for tracks and a currency many still yearn for. They are solid foundations for tracks and a currency many still yearn for. It can be tricky writing from the heart and making your words sound new but that is why the women are ahead. Maybe it is a mindset or perspective that makes them more intriguing but I find it is a combination of interesting and poetic lyrics and vocals that can express greater emotional range. The boys are too rigid and few stand in the memory for as long. This is not the case with Blake’s Fortune who has something about him. Like the finest female songwriters around; he goes the extra mile and away from the predictable. It is hard to characterise but I hear so many male songwriters that come across boring, formulaic and uninspired. In order for music to grow and evolve, we need to encourage those artists that have something special about them. One hears that in Blake’s Fortune and an album like Hello World.
I shall come to the music very soon but, before then, a look at debut album and social media. On the first point: Hello World, could have been quite a defined and limited album that stuck with a single genre and taking its inspiration from a shallow well. I hear a lot of debut album that shows a lack of courage and innovation. That is understandable in an industry that is unstable and cruel. What I mean is many artists can be overlooked if they try to be different and unconventional. Because of that; an opening salvo is personable and strong but lacks any real experimentation and difference. You may hear the odd song that has a unique flair but few artists come in with such a kaleidoscopic and inventive approach to music. That is not to say Blake’s Fortune has come in with a Paul’s Boutique style of album (Beastie Boys) but neither does it sit still and play it cool. There is a banquet of different stories, sounds and possibilities. I am always surprised when new artists play it safe on their first album and do not take chances. Maybe it is a commercial risk but, considering most are not under the radar of the big labels, they have the opportunity to do something unexpected and stand out. Far too many are repeating what others have said or producing rather average albums. Musicians like Blake’s Fortune are not looking for the big streaming figures and getting into the charts. Here is a pure and proper musician who is inspired by multiple genres and artists – putting this into his work and matching that with stories from his past and present. Whether this will continue as he goes deeper into his career I am not sure – I would like to think it will. At this early stage; the signs are promising and it looks very rosy. Hello World has that wide-ranging ethos but manages to keep things grounded and focused. The songs are personal and intimate but, when you least expect it, they expand and take you somewhere else. A heady brew that many of his peers could learn from. I am excited to see where John Lennon’s alter ego can go and what the future holds.
Before I look at a song from his album, I wanted to talk about social media and images. The man behind the music has a lot of promise and aesthetic appeal. That is not saying he should be a model or shooting for calendars but there is an approachable and captivating artist that deserves greater representation. This review has a few photos but the vast majority do not feature John Lennon. One of my greatest tirades is when taking musicians to task regarding photographs. It can be quite frustrating when they do not put images online and want the music to do all the talking. That is something that irks me: no musician worth their salt is strong enough to ignore visual demands and solid music will only get you so far. In the case of Blake’s Fortune, there is a modesty and humbleness that dictates this omission – rather than an egotistical approach to his sounds and image. I would like to see him captured on the streets of Dublin as, not only will that ensure people put a face to the music but mean the big magazines and websites will go for him. The Dublin artists I mentioned earlier, between them, have a wide range of images and have social media pages fulsome and updated. Blake’s Fortune impresses me because of the number of sites one can find him on. All the social media and music-streaming platforms are included and he has an official website. That is a big and important aspect many musicians are overlooking. The only way to better this is for Blake’s Fortune to put more photos up and, perhaps, a bit more background and biography. He is a strong musician that has years ahead: getting a jump on these kinds of demands is paramount. Another thing I would like to see from him is some music videos. Maybe that is planned but, when promoting an album, YouTube visibility is vital. So many of the songs provoke clear images and fascinating stories. Having those represented through videos would bring more listeners in and get a greater number of followers onto his social media pages. Blake’s Fortune has a good fanbase but can increase the numbers with a few tweaks and developments. Maybe, again, that will come in time and something I would like to see happen.
The opening strings of Heart’s Roulette get you into the countryside and the landscape. Lennon’s voice is soft and assured but does not needlessly race and emote. There is a dignity and control that means the words are punctuated and precise. It seems like things have fallen apart of the seams and come apart. “Bridge the gap that was awfully/across my heart” is an example of lyrics that are oblique and interesting. The masculine, assured vocal has plenty of emotional and romance but there is some caution and wariness. Maybe things have gone sour in a relationship or, as the song title suggests, love is a real gamble. A past relationship may have made the hero sceptical but a new girl can change all of this. It seems like he is directing his words to a new love: someone who can overturn the bad days and bring some new inspiration to his life. I am not sure whether Heart’s Roulette is the result of a break-up but there are definite heartaches at work. When you think the song is going to be a straightforward and accessible thing – those who judge Folk and music upon few words – there are luscious and serene female vocals that back the hero up. It is a shot of colour and sensuality that raises the shivers and takes the mind elsewhere. I started off in the countryside – the sensation of rolling fields and pastoral solitude – but, now, go into the bedroom. Not in a seedy way but it seems like pillow-talk and intimate conversation is coming in. “Dreams can pull us together”, it is said. The hero has a hopefulness and wants to transition to better times. The heroine, it seems, left the bed for the sea.
It is quite an old-world view of fleeing lovers and new lands. The hero looks around and sees the heroine depart. Trying to take this all in; he casts the spotlight into his own soul and wonders where it went wrong. Maybe it was a natural breakup or the two were on different pages – she wanted something different and a new way of life. Whatever the origins, I get the sense of redemption and renewal. The hero, backed by gorgeous female vocals, investigates the wreckage but, rather than lament and wallow, seems to have a pragmatic imagination. Things will get better but it is important to take lessons away from this current love. I mentioned how a new love could be on his mind but I cannot shake that sense of being in the bedroom and looking from the window. The wilds and oceans are outside and, holding his heart firmly, there is a young man trying to make sense of things. The compositional broadens and expands as the song progresses. There are harder strings and Indie touches; bigger percussive influence and a change in the vocal dynamic. The hero did not expect to win the game of roulette but wants to take a chance. Fiddle and falsetto blends with electric licks and a stringent approach – a man who has doubts but wants things to be better. Those wordless vocals are such an inherent part of the song’s charm and strength. There are few lyrics on Heart’s Roulette but, the ones there are, give you all the story and revelation you need. Despite that; there is mystery and room for interpretation. Whether the hero found satisfaction and bonded with the new love – or was haunted by the fallout of the relationship – I am not sure but would like to imagine there is hope and new lease. The final stages of the song build those vocals and perfectly melt traditional Irish Folk and modern Indie. There is flair and energy but that passion and traditional element of Irish folklore. You swim through the song and imagine yourself out at sea. From the opening segments – where you picture countryside and calm – you go to the bedroom and the hero looking out. By the end; you are on the boat with the heroine and, perhaps, the hero is following her. Heart’s Roulette is a song that tackles lost love and the risk and gambles of relationships. It is a new take and aspect of love and the way it can take you by surprise.
I have written about Heart’s Roulette and why it represents Hello World perfectly. It is a song that gets inside the head and captures the heart. That brilliant track is in great company: the album has some brilliant moments and consistent quality. What grabs me about the album is the variation throughout. Some reviewers have noted how the music is Indie-Folk and has shades of War on Drugs. They are a band getting a lot of acclaim right now so is a good thing for Blake’s Fortune. To be fair, that comparison does not fully appreciate the talent and original aspects of his music. I will end by returning to some points I investigated early. At the moment, I am looking at Blake’s Fortune’s social media feeds and there is a lot of interesting developments. Not only has he recently encountered The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon – a cheeky signed photo and all – but the new album has been included in stores around Dublin. It seems things are going really well for John Lennon so I wonder how far he can go. I guess there are gigs happening around E.I.R.E. and, maybe, Northern Ireland. I am not sure whether artists from the South of Ireland are willing to gig there or if there are tensions still. I would not like to say but hope it is possible for Lennon to travel to the North. In any case; he can come to the U.K. and perform in countries like Scotland and England. We here would love to see him perform in places like London, Brighton and Manchester. There are so many areas that would welcome the fantastic music of Blake’s Fortune. Maybe he is already planning on coming to England but, maybe, financial restrictions mean he might stay in Dublin for a while. I can see the young songwriter making big strides in years to come and rising through the ranks.
Coming back to the Dublin music scene and the quality one can see there. The Grand Social and The Cobblestone are a couple of great venues that many local artists are taking advantage of. Vicar Street has played host to comedians but it is the musicians that pass through the doors that remain in the memory. It is a great space for artists of all genres to play to a welcoming and passionate city. The Button Factory and Whelan’s are incredible venues and, between them, having seen some legends of music pass through the doors – including Nick Cave and Jeff Buckley. There is so much to recommend about Dublin’s music scene – a part of the world that gets overlooked by many. Blake’s Fortune is part of an incredible scene that has so many world-class musicians performing. It is a magnificent part of the world and one you should naturally look to when it comes to future legends. I hope Blake’s Fortune takes full advantage of the city and the venues scattered throughout. Even if he does not play over there for a while; his music is going down a storm and it cannot be long before there are big demands around the world. I will end by looking at his music and how he is adding new life into Indie-Folk. That genre gets a bad reputation because, many associates it with a certain listlessness and fatigue. Whether you class Blake’s Fortune as pure Folk or Indie: he has so many different styles working through Hello World. It is hard to pin the man down but, on the surface, one might predict and judge. John Lennon has the look of a man one might find strumming the guitar and performing something gentle and unengaging. That is stereotyping and something a lot of critics and music-lovers do.
One cannot jump to conclusions and assume an artist is the grand total of their image. It takes merely a few minutes before John Lennon’s incredible music gets into the imagination. He portrays sides of Folk that would please fans of Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake but, dig deep, and there is a modern sensibility that is fresh and exciting. He has incredible songwriting ability and can take the listener in multiple directions. The songs are deep and compelling; the singing varies from warm to rousing. An accomplished composer who feeds from the city and people. Earlier, I listed a few of the artists who are putting Dublin on the map. The city has always produced great music but, recently, too many eyes have been cast elsewhere. It is musicians like Blake’s Fortune that mean Dublin will always be relevant and exceptional. The range and diversity of sounds is amazing. Maybe you feel Ireland will have a very limited sense of musicianship but it is as modern and nimble as any other nation. The supportive and rich music scene is encouraging its artists to remain and support one another. That is rare to find and is a shining example to other parts of the world. I will end this now but want to congratulate Blake’s Fortune on a terrific album and wonderful sound. I wish I could write more – aware people might be losing concentration – but I hope I have represented his qualities and personality appropriately. It has been great bonding with a personal and approachable musician who writes music that, somehow, fuses universal with the individual. I will follow his career because, in years to come, more people…
WILL be enriched by Blake’s Fortune.
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