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Whatever preconceptions you might have about folk music need to be left behind before listening to Bellowhead, if not they will soon be crushed by a band going from strength to strength. Mixing traditional four hundred year old songs and shanties with a group of eleven extremely talented musicians who just like to have a good time sounds like a recipe for disaster. Yet Bellowhead have pulled it off time and time again and which can be seen with their fourth album, Broadside.
Their third album Hedonism released in 2010 is the highest selling independent folk album of all time and the band have had raving live reviews with five BBC Folk Awards for the ‘Best Live Band’ and two more for ‘Best Group’ making Bellowhead the most successful band ever at the awards. Similar yet different to bands like Mumford and Sons, Bellowhead make contemporary folk music with their own unique twist, and are slowly but surely reaping the rewards.
Again teaming up with legendary producer John Leckie, a man famous for working with the Stone Roses and Radiohead, the band have had their fantastic live energy captured by a man who knows what he is doing when it comes to getting the best sound from a band. Kicking off with the Northumbrian Mining song ‘Byker Hill’, it is clear that there is a punchier, folk rock sound appearing on this album. One of the surprising tales, ‘Old Dun Cow’, comes from being stuck in a burning pub – a frightening and scary affair I am sure – but Bellowhead have never made being stuck in a burning building sound so good. ‘Roll the Woodpipe Down’ with huge backing vocals brings the theatre and atmosphere of the live Bellowhead experience home.
Lead single ‘10,000 Miles Away’ is a vibrant song similar to ‘New York Girls’ on Hedonism. It is a song that you can’t help but do a little folk “jig” along with as you listen. The gruesome ‘Black Beetle Pies’ comes complete with witch cackling and will fit in with any Halloween night, as will the eerie ‘The Wife of Usher’s Well’. The Cooper Family classic ‘Thousands or More’ has been reinvented and rejuvenated in the unique Bellowhead style and sounds fantastic.
The instrumental sea shanty ‘Dockside Rant’ has the perfect build up through the intro to the song before elegantly showing the quality musicianship of the band. The unconventional, almost disjointed performance on ‘Lillibulero’ should fail – but again it shows how something that sounds like a recipe for disaster can come out of the oven with a fantastic taste (or in this case sound). Finishing the album with ‘Go My Way’ the band have again revived a rocking sea shanty in their distinctive style and I would argue made it better as a result.
Broadside builds on the success of Hedonism and Bellowhead’s reputation as a live spectacle. Taking traditional songs about brutal and graphic stories may seem extreme but it is the underlying roots of lust and love that come across from a band with unprecedented talent and experience. Broadside is a must for anyone who enjoys music, its infectious rhythms will have you dancing and singing along before you even know that you are doing.