Almanac Music: Aussie album review – Dan Sultan “Blackbird”

dan sulktan covers


Album: Blackbird
Artist: Dan Sultan
Released: 2014

Is Dan Sultan Australia’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll star? If he is not, then why isn’t he? Yes, I know he sells out tours locally, and is a darling of the Australian music scene, but he is not quite the household name that say, ahem, Guy Sebastian is. It’s even more curious, given the quality of last year’s Blackbird.

This album differs from his previous two (Homemade Biscuits and the more acoustic Get Out While You Can) in a number of ways with the most significant points of difference being that it was recorded in Nashville, and that on this disc Sultan takes on the bulk of the songwriting duties – having either written or co-written all of the 13 songs. The latter point should not be understated, given the influence guitarist and songwriter Scott Wilson had on much of Sultan’s earlier work. In interviews promoting this album, he touched on the falling out he had with Wilson. Without wanting to sound like a name-dropper, I once met Wilson at a party and was fascinated by the detailed insights he was prepared to offer on the meanings behind some of his songs. So it comes as a pleasant surprise that there is a strength in Sultan’s songwriting, which really impresses more and more with each listen.

For the most part, Blackbird is old-fashioned straight-ahead pub rock, with some oh-so subtle variations. With a crack backing band, including horns and even the occasional banjo, and superb harmonies, there is only the rare let-up to take a breath, such as on the tender closing track Gullible Few. There are bluesy flourishes on tracks such as Make Me Slip and plenty of soul hints on the gems Ain’t Thinking About You and Can’t Blame Me. And just to add further interest, Sultan references his indigenous heritage on the slightly wistful Kimberley Calling, which is close to the standout track on the disc.

In the end though, what satisfies most and makes this album such an enjoyable and continually rewarding listen is Dan Sultan’s voice. Rich, powerful and distinct whilst retaining an amazing versatility, it is an instrument to behold. And it really comes across as if he now understands when and how to unleash it, and when it is appropriate to rein it in.

Fellow Almanacker Andrew Fithall will gladly tell you that there are plenty of excellent Australian artists around at the moment, and that there have been heaps of excellent albums produced this millennium. You just have to dig a little. In my opinion, Dan Sultan sits near the top of this pile.

Is he Australia’s biggest rock star? Who knows how you measure such a proposition. But he is now assuredly on the verge of being the best. If you have not yet had a taste of Dan Sultan, and after reading this you are not just a little bit curious in sampling a taste of him – then that is your loss!

About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Nice review Smokey, it’s an accomplished album. Gave it a flogging in the weeks after its release and have come back to over the past couple of days – putting in a pre-season for his gig at the National in St Kilda next weekend. It’s definitely standing up on the revisit.

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    Excellent review of a very good album Smokie. You have already chastised me of not including it in my top 10 last year, but hey – there was only room for 10.

    Interesting that you include “strong” as one of your adjectives for his voice. I think it is the fragility of his voice that actually adds to the sound. It has taken a hammering over the years and I think he still has to nurse himself through extended tours.

    Live, the addition of Ash Naylor (what a fine Collingwood supporter he is) on lead guitar is a real positive.


  3. We saw Dan Sultan perform recently at the Rver Boats festival in Echuca. He was the final performer on the Saturday night, playing a superb set to close out the day.


  4. Smoke, I just stumbled on this guy on Radio National and I was thinking ‘ who the fk is this?’ Kudos mate, this guy is an astonishing talent … and I’ll be going out tomorrow to buy his CD on the strength of the live performance on RN.

  5. Get out while you can one of my favourites. I felt Blackbird was a direct attempt to get MMM airplay. Not a bad album, misses the subtlety and variety of its predecessor.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Blackbird is a superb album that takes you in from first listen. Great review Smokie.

  7. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Saw him during a Sydney festival gig at the Hyde Park Barracks singing Get Out While You Can songs. He followed African legend Fela Kuti’s son, FemI. Incredible live presence (and just a bit handsome!) and I agree with Andrew, the crackling that interrupted that rich, smooth voice was the key to getting inside the songs and the songs getting inside you.. Plus he had buckets of energy. Rocked a small venue well beyond its walls.

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