No matter what your musical persuasion, you can't help but look at Bellowhead with a certain amount of fascination and admiration. For those of you not in the know, Bellowhead are an 11 piece folk collective that have firmly established themselves as festival favourites due to their energy packed live performances. This is the third album from the group founded by the respected duo of John Spiers and Jon Boden and is an eclectic mix of folk, music hall, sea shanties and theatrics that is highly enjoyable and undeniably infectious.
The bands sound is helped in no small part by John Leckie on production duties, giving the album an earthiness and live feel that really allows the musicianship to shine through. Album opener is the much covered traditional New York Girls. It is a joyful uplifting ode to the working ladies of old New York with brass and strings weaving an intricate dance led by the fantastic percussion of Pete Flood. With the odd exception, all the 11 tracks on here are arrangements of traditional folk songs that have been passed down through the generations and will be recognisable to most folk fans but it is where the band tackle something different they shine brightest. Their cover of Jacques Brel's Amsterdam is sublime and outshines Scott Walkers version, which is no mean feat.
Some of the arrangements given to the trad songs contained here are inspired. Take A-Begging I Will Go. While it is still recognisable, it at times sounds like a cross between the theme from The Professionals and The Sweeney mainly due to the stabbing brass and funky wah wah guitar. Bellowhead drag folk music into the 21st century but it ain't screaming and kicking. It is quite happy to come along for the ride. Pick of the pack however must go to the stunning The Hand Weaver and The Factory Maid. The arrangement is fresh, funky and is everything that Bellowhead are about. You simply won't be able to keep your feet still.
This is folk music for people who never thought they could like folk music. One listen to Little Sally Racket (another song about ladies of the night) with all the punk sensibility of The Damned and Ska infectiousness of The Beat should be enough to convince.
Bellowhead are a band that deserve your attention and this album is one of their best. Buy it.