Album Reviews

Bellowhead – Matachin

(Navigator) UK release date: 22 September 2008

Bellowhead - Matachin Genre-blending 11-piece Bellowhead struck gold with Burlesque. Their first long player as a collective, it spilled voluptuously onto the mainstream radar and won the group all manner of new fans and plaudits.

Where now, then? Just more of the same? Well, sort of, but not entirely. As with all good follow-ups, Matachin (a sword dance, if you were wondering) grafts its predecessor’s virtues with fresh ideas and approaches.

The philosophy, for instance, is largely unchanged: traditional folk arrangements remain the band’s raw material, the process of teasing them through an amalgam of genres – from big band and jazz to world music and rock – resulting once more in salubrious folk-based ditties and anthems.

Matachin, however, is ever so slightly reigned in next to Burlesque. Yes, there are moments of eccentricity, such as the bawdy Kafoozalum, but Bellowhead’s sensibilities are now subtly more, well, subtle.

Cholera Camp, though a drunken shanty musically, recounts Rudyard Kipling’s morbid 1896 poem, and Spectre Review, a 19th Century Austrian poem set to a French tune, is positively spooky.

Further, Widow’s Curse trots splendidly down a modern minor chord path, Jon Boden relating a gloriously gruesome tale of illicit conception. “But in the maws of carrion crows the ravens made their tomb / And then in Hell he screamed and writhed in everlasting doom”. Splendid.

If their recent Proms triumph is anything to go by – and I daresay it is – Matachin ought to mark Bellowhead’s rising star with more of the infectious, boisterous and frankly unique arrangements that first crashed them into the mainstream’s consciousness.

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