Ken Dunn & Gypsy StarfishKen Dunn & Gypsy Starfish
Album: The Great Unknown
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10

Veteran Canadian singer-songwriter Ken Dunn brings us his sixth full-length album since 1994, on which he unveils ten new self-penned originals that straddle (at times less than straightforwardly) the hinterland between roots, folk and country-rock, in the company of his mighty Gypsy Starfish band.

This talented combo consists of Anna Green (harmony vocals), Dean Drouillard (electric guitar), Tyler Beckett (fiddle), Keira McArthur (cello), Drew McIvor (keyboard) and Randy Martin (bass), and they support Ken with an assured presence and keen musical sympathy. It can be a touch difficult to get a handle on Ken's worldview, and his stance can seem elusive and contradictory; for instance, the very act of opening an album with the phrase "God Bless America" might appear dubious, indeed possibly even asking for trouble, but closer investigation reveals Ken's ambivalence about pursuing the American Dream during his time playing music in California. After which, Ken's right-minded attitude gains credibility through pensive numbers like Stay By My Side and Cross Of Lorraine, an account of the fight against tuberculosis (revisited from Ken's 20-year-old album Precious Life).

Ken's honest ruminations on growing old (Shifting Sand) provide a soulful complement to the full-on-screaming electric protest Crazy-Horse rock'n'roll of Fukushima Nightmares. Throughout, Ken's vocal style has something of the nasal whine of Neil Young, which suits some material better than others, but the musical backdrops are invariably well-considered and relative to Ken's lyrics. Ken might appear almost to be writing his own autobiography on the album's title song, which pays unassuming, affectionate tribute to the "countless, amazingly talented but largely unknown musicians (he's) met on the road".

On the evidence of My Beating Heart and Forsaken By These Blues, it's the tender, string-backed songs that maybe seem to come off best on this offering, but Ken's songs are always worth a listen.

David Kidman