As the Dunwells finally prepare themselves for the release of their debut album in the UK, it appears at first sight that they’ve taken a strange and scenic route to get to that point. Originally coming together in Leeds in 2009, the have scored a few notable triumphs in their homeland, with a number of prestigious gigs and the patronage of the Caffe Nero chain helping to reach out to a solid grass roots following. But it’s been across the water in America where the band has really made its mark.
Invited to the Folk Alliance conference in 2011 The Dunwells had an immediate impact. “Anyone that’s seen them has just been ‘Oh My God!’ They’re mind boggling!” was the summary offered by Folk Alliance Executive Director Louis Jay Meyers to Voice of America radio and anyone else who would listen. Perhaps unsurprisingly given this kind of reaction the band have been signed to the US label Playing In Traffic since then, who also got first dibs on the record, which was released over there a little while ago.
It’s not unprecedented for an artist to break somewhere other than their native land. Given the Dunwells particular style, you could argue that it makes perfect sense. Their fine melodic craft simply says college radio and there’s an easy, languid, rootsy feel to their songs, allied to some snappy pop hooks suggestive of window- down-highway-cruising.
To meet them makes such notions appear fanciful as they appear very down to earth. As suggested above, they are also prepared to put in the work to capture an audience the old fashioned way, playing gigs and connecting with an audience, which they are very capable of doing. But still they have a self-realised sense of purpose and confidence in what they are doing, doubtless bolstered by the reaction they’ve enjoyed.
So finally re-titled, re-sequenced and with a number of alternate versions of their songs Follow The Road is set for UK release. It’s positively brimful of great tunes too, from the title track lead off through to the end, packing some delightful melodies and great harmony singing into its 45 minutes. As we’ve already suggested it’s that singing that raises this outfit a cut above much of the competition, with all five members adding their voices in various combinations. There’s a real passion to the way that Joseph and David Dunwell take the lead, that adds a poignancy to what appears fairly simple homespun, everyman philosophising.
Follow The Road is a glass half full statement of intent and the re-mix of the track gives it an almost 60s edge with the effect put onto the lead guitar. As if to demonstrate their strength, David takes the lead on Hand That Feeds, his voice strong over the driving rhythms. Goodnight My City is the first of four stripped back songs on the album. The acoustic mode suits the Dunwells very well indeed, but live they are capable of pulling off a great show in either format.
So Beautiful and I Could Be A King are already established audience favourites when you see the band. David has even joked about his banjo technique on the latter, as it’s apparently come under some scrutiny in America as they take such things very seriously over there. The former of course sets up the audience participation sing-a-long. With drummer Johnny taking the lead on Only Me and Perfect Timing, a third and probably the sweetest focal point is added.
As already suggested, it’s when you see them that this really pays off. It’s easy to see how the Folk Alliance performance could have set up the enthusiastic response they’ve received Stateside. When all five band members join in harmony it both sounds and looks mightily impressive, but they have also such natural energy and brio it’s hard not to be swept up.
Their obvious strides in the USA are likely to keep them much in demand over there so grab any opportunity you can to see them. There are a handful of UK dates, before they return to tour the USA and Canada through July and into August, when the band will return to these shores to play Cropdredy. The debut album may have taken the scenic route to get here, but the Dunwells are following their own road, just make sure you hitch a ride.
Review by: Simon Holland
Follow the Road is released on Universal Music Group International 27th May 2013