Arguably the most rock & roll outfit on the contemporary folk scene, 11-piece collective Bellowhead's knack of blending punk, funk, jazz, and cabaret with centuries-old ballads and sea shanties couldn't be more removed from the winsome fare of the in vogue no-folk brigade. Produced by John Leckie (Radiohead, Stone Roses), their third album, Hedonism, continues to blur the boundaries on 11 imaginative reworkings of traditional standards which prove that British folk can be as exhilarating as it can be melancholic. Opener "New York Girls" sets the tone immediately with its array of jaunty fiddles and frenzied percussion providing a suitably upbeat backdrop for Jon Boden's antiquated pirate-esque tones, and is followed by possibly their greatest interpretation to date, "A-Begging I Will Go," whose funky guitar licks and Stax horns turns the 17th century classic into something that could have been the theme tune to a Blaxploitation film. Elsewhere, "Yarmouth Town" is given a breathless jazz club workout; the instrumental "Cross-Eyed and Chinless" cleverly drifts from accordion-led Morris dance to seductive tango; while the mournful child ballad, "Cold Blows the Wind" is virtually unrecognizable as a brass-led vaudeville show stopper. The radical transformations don't always come off quite so effortlessly, particularly "Little Sally Racket," a chaotic and discordant fusion of manic surf rock riffs, anarchic vocals, and frantic punk rhythms. But while the sinister waltz of Jacques Brel's "Amsterdam," the haunting Scottish balladry of "Captain Wedderburn," and the slow-burning cinematics of "Broomfield Hill" show the band can enthrall even when they slow down the pace, Hedonism is at its most triumphant when it lives up to its name.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien