Boyd Lee Dunlop,
The Lake Reflections
(B Sharp, 2013)

Boyd Lee Dunlop worked in the steel mills and rail yards of Buffalo all of his adult life, playing piano on the side in the city's clubs and bars. He made his first album at age 85 after being found living in a nursing home by photojournalist Brendan Bannon, who happened to stop by the home to discuss doing a photography project there. The album brought him a lot of attention, including an interview on NPR's Morning Edition, and Boyd finally had the career that had escaped him all of his life.

And then the story took an odd turn. While the first album was climbing the charts and Dunlop was getting famous, he had a massive heart attack and was clinically dead for six minutes. He came back and, as soon as he was healthy again, declared he wanted to make another album. The first one, Boyd's Blues, was a piano trio album. For the second one, he left the rhythm section out and did a set of solo piano improvisations based on his impressions of a series of pictures of Lake Erie taken by Brendan Bannon and the single word peace.

So what we have here is a CD of six songs, pretty much made up on the spot, completely improvised, given structure only by the core idea of what a photograph suggested to the pianist. What is the result? A magnificent CD. The Lake Reflections is a set that gives you the heart and soul of the musician; he is playing his emotions, giving us the depth of his experience. Dunlop, in these tunes, is a man possessed by music, a man driven to share what the music has given him.

Since he abandoned the idea of formally writing tunes and charts and playing them in a band setting, Dunlop is free from the confines of a set structure; the song doesn't have to be 32 bars, and doesn't have to be verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse. It does not have to be theme-variations-theme/coda. The song is what his heart hears at the moment and what Dunlop's heart hears is soulful and spiritual. He never plays loud, is never discordant, and never, never tries to show you how good he is. After all, Boyd Lee Dunlop is 86 years old and back from the dead; what does he have to prove?

No, what Dunlop is doing is communicating, sharing his very soul. You'll love listening.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

2 March 2013

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