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Duke Special – Oh Pioneer!

Nichola Eastwood


Here, in his native Northern Ireland, Duke Special needs no introduction.  There’s no mistaking the Belfast hailing, dreadlock wearing and eyeliner adorned artist, famous as much for his appearance as his not inconsiderable talent.  Oh Pioneer! is the latest offering from Duke Special, it’s a musical circus of an album you can’t help but love.

There is no mistaking Duke Specials’ distinctly accented vocals, which reign supreme throughout.  You won’t get a better showcase of vocal talent than Condition.  Dukes’ voice stands boldly against a minimalist musical backdrop, carrying the track through to its end.  It’s just one of the traits that make Duke Specials work so recognisable and gorgeously listenable.

There is a definite aura of the experimental and a sense of bending the rules in this album, moments such as Stargazers Of The World Unite, Little Black Fish and Punch Of A Friend ooze with the vintage quirkiness we’ve come to expect of Duke Special.  Stargazers Of The World is a melodic toy box of a track, dream laden lyrics and a jazz tinged feel.  Current single Punch Of A Friend has the nostalgic fuzzy quality you’d expect from an antique radio, it’s a summery easy going number.

Nowhere does Oh Pioneer! shine more than at its most theatrical and sinister.  The vaudevillian charm of Snakes In The Grass would not seem out of place in a musical, whilst How I Learned To Love The Sun abounds with Victorian charm.  It sounds as though it’s being aired through an old gramophone, with Duke Special crooning like a theatrical villain.  Closing with a quirky old world waltz, How I learned To Love The Sun (like every track on the album) has a lovingly crafted character all its’ own.

You’d be hard pushed to find an album as varied and as heartfelt as Oh Pioneer!  It’s a trumpet tinkling, clarinet singing, keyboard playing and piano led feast of folk.  Not one of the leading or even more well known musical exports from this corner of the world, Duke Special rightly deserves to be saluted as one of our best.