Four albums in and most people, fans and music critics alike, were running out of superlatives to describe Bellowhead. But now they are back with a fifth offering and those same people will be digging out their thesauruses to try and find new descriptions. For me, the word I keep coming back to as I listen to Revival is relief: relief that at last I've found an album that I can listen to, and enjoy, in its entirety.
Don't get me wrong - I am a fan. I've seen them live numerous times and have pinned my ears back to all their previous offerings but I've only ever found two or three tracks on each album that were really listenable; 'Roll The Woodpile Down' on Broadside, 'Jordan' and 'Across The Line' on Burlesque, 'New York Girls' on 2010's Hedonism. To Me their other tracks were so big-band-esque that they only reached their potential live on stage.
But finally this immensely talented ensemble have produced a tight record that demands repeated play and is still uniquely them. The group singing carries the album in a way that previous efforts haven't - this isn't just Jon Boden singing with backing musicians but an alliance of performers who are equally skilled singing or playing. And the ever-present brass section is not the overarching, discordant cacophony that it has threatened to be on previous albums; the only time it threatens to overrule is on 'Gosport Nancy' but the track ends at 3:21 so it doesn't have time to do so.
The aforementioned track is one of three stand out tunes alongside the opening two: 'Let Her Run' and 'Roll Alabama'. These are both foot-stomping, ear-rocking chorus anthems, lifted to another plane by the fantastic string and drumming arrangements. They will undoubtedly become fan favourites - Sidmouth and Towersey won't be the only places with broken dance floors once these get aired in public
Bellowhead haven't completely abandoned the sound that made them so unique however; 'Fine Sally', 'Moon Kittens' and 'Seeds of Love' are nods to their previous work in that Boden sings and the band plays. These three are somehow at odds with the other tracks, especially 'Fine Sally' coming as it does in the midst of three other stylistically similar tracks. As well as something old, and something new, Bellowhead have something borrowed as the band breathe new life (and brass) into Richard and Linda Thompson's 'I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight'. Like the majority of this album, it is a triumph.
The album finishes with the instrumental 'Jack Lintel' and 'Greenwood Side' - listed and recorded as two separate tracks they share phrasings of the same tune as evidenced by the string section and the consistently magnificent cello. The way this collective works you can't help but think some of these arrangements wouldn't happen if the group wasn't so big - eleven members makes for a lot of collective input.
If you haven't heard Bellowhead before (and how could you not?) don't start at the beginning of their output - start with this. Because what they have given us here is an album where every piece works and, more importantly, sounds like it works. Revival is, quite simply, a masterpiece - a record that will sit comparably alongside those offerings from other musical glitterati on the Island Records label including the likes of Nick Drake, Bob Marley, U2 and the pioneers of Bellowhead's own genre - Fairport Convention.
One can only wonder what is next for this award-winning troupe? On this evidence - more of the same please.