This one's been giving me some bother I don't mind telling you, and I'm relieved other reviewers have been so positive about it. Much work has evidently gone into creating the 52-minute experience that is Bellowhead's second album, and a fair amount of determination has been called for in listening to it.
Along with John Spiers and Jon Boden (whose live appearances have always been a source of pleasure) Benji Kirkpatrick heads a troupe of eleven players: their sound is an often anxious and rowdy theatre-of-democracy excitement, and while the musicianship throughout is mighty, it takes forms both jagged and annoying. Even an especially assertive form of tuba, the helicon, has been sought out.
Entitled as Bellowhead may be to the promo-sticker's sizeable claim that the band is 'mixing folk, rock, jazz, soul and world music' the result can be oppressive; and the same short paragraph also prepares the listener for 'Arcade Fire, Lotte Lenya and Tom Waits all rolled into one.' No wonder punch-drunkenness comes early.
Another style they might briefly claim is funk, executed with cunning and charm using traditional instruments, but which then goes off into stomping Brechtian mayhem. Plenty of this album is bullying good-time music, which I'll admit can probably can be relieved by visual aspects of Bellowhead's hurtling performances; but dread hovers ever around that an earth-quaking floral dance might break out at any time, and indeed that Simon Smith And His Amazing Dancing Bear have already arrived.
As the pen continues to smoulder where it dropped, I would nevertheless like to express gratitude for the beautiful 'Bruton Town' and for an intriguing sleeve note to 'Roll Her Down The Bay', telling that many shanties are African-American in origin.