'Broadside is, in short, a masterpiece...this is a must have for connoisseurs and newcomers alike.'
Have you heard the indescribable sounds of Bellowhead yet? no? does the affixed terminology of “folk” put you off? or have you just not got round to it yet, well if so you’re missing out on one of the most spectacular, breathtaking and original acts around. The eleven piece band may have shaped their foundations from traditional folk but the band then twist these old age laments into something new, an evocative sound that’s dramatic, bold, joyous, theatrical, thrilling and above all completely unique.
The band’s previous (third) album, Hedonism became the highest selling independently released “traditional” folk album of all time and the John Leckie produced fourth, Broadside should see the ensemble eclipse even those previous lofty heights as the band capture their explosive (and renowned) live sound on record to create a masterpiece, welding together epic group sing-a-longs, marauding percussion, dancing strings and massive brass blowouts to dazzling effect.
The album opens with dramatic sawing strings, galloping riffs and effortless group vocals and harmonies on the stunning statement of intent, Byker Hill. The three and a half minute (Northumbrian mining) track is a glorious combination of traditional folk elements and a harder hitting, almost rock influence, dense instrumentation and infectious vocals instantly grab at the attention and by the end of the first track’s duration you know this album is going to be something very special indeed. Old Dun Cow continues with the theatrics, a contagious tale of being trapped in a burning pub that features quirky harmonies, intriguing rhythmic patterns, a mesmeric sax solo and an almost orchestral score that wouldn’t sound out of place soundtracking a production in the West End.
The album continues to dazzle and inspire with the party romp of Roll The Woodpike Down, a rollicking track featuring the aforementioned lifting group vocals and the stunning accordian and fiddle led, sea shanty of 10,000 Miles Away. Elsewhere the band deliver a macabre tale that could have been lifted straight from the pages of Sweeny Todd, in the shape of the quirky horn fuelled Black Beetle Pies, a playful, yet defiantly darker number completed with edgy, grizzled backing vocals that might find a home within the grooves of a Tom Waits record. The manage even manage to captivate and engage the listener with Dockside Rant, a short instrumental, that see’s the band weave an imaginative spell of strings, brass and beats into a compelling and lifting interlude.
And there’s no way I could write a review Broadside without mentioning the stirring blackened tale of The Wife Of Usher’s Well, a ghostly tale of death, earthly flesh and blood that features impassioned choral vocals, sinister guitar squalls and intoxicating instrumentation that draws the listener into the shadowy world of the song.
Broadside is in short a masterpiece, a compelling twelve track affair that turns the perceived world of folk on it’s head, Bellowhead must be commended for consistently delivering evocative, inventive and completely contagious music of such a high standard, this is a must have for connoisseurs and newcomers alike.
Rhythm & Booze Rating 10