The Hang of Music: “New York Girls Can’t Dance The Polka”
My god, this is late. Later than even I’d expected. So very late. Late late late.
I’m sorry; it’s been a long, long week. But no matter, I will make it up to you guys, whoever you may be.
And not just by making you listen to great folk music, with the titular claim about the dancing skills of ladies from NY. This is Bellowhead’s third album, “Hedonism”.
It’s all live videos this week, because there’s no other way to enjoy Bellowhead. If you look very closely, and out of the range of the camera, maybe you’ll see me and my belle trying to dance in a crowd as happy as it was packed wall to wall.
I’m going to have to work to not make this a gig review. My intention was to review the album, and use it as an excuse to familiarise myself with the album before I saw them. It worked, in every way except for the review. So, expect something even more subjective than usual today.
Anyway, the album, their third, is a bit of a departure. The inclusion of a cover version of what is, essentially, a pop song is an example of this – they do a hauntingly beautiful cover of Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” on the album. Seriously, it’s lovely. When I recognised it, along with a few strains of “Greensleeves”*, my heart leapt.
As you can probably tell, this is already going to be a positive review. But let me go through it, though, because there’s some stuff on here which threw me off balance when I heard it. They’re trying something new (ish – there’s only so much newer you can get with a 10 piece baroque folk band).
First of all, if you’ve heard any of their previous albums, then you’ll probably hear a bit of an arrangement change. I’m pretty sure that this album is the most like an actual band they’ve ever sounded, track two – “A-Begging I Will Go” – in particular. I’m sure that’s a guitar somewhere in the mix there. And the way the song is put together is much more of an “Intro-Verse-Riff-Verse-Chorus-Outro” layout.
Once they’ve finished trying out rock, they go into smooth tunes that will sadly end up one day on a reality TV show. That’s how smooth “The Hand Weaver And The Factory Maid” is. It’s still lovely, just maybe too lovely for it’s own good.
All of this is building up to the pinnacle of weirdness, “Little Sally Racket”. It’s actually one of my favourite songs on the album, mainly because it’s so crackers! Also because it’s good, but after even a whole album of eccentric folk songs it makes you sit up when you hear it. It DEMANDS your attention, like screaming babies and the TV in the corner of the room that’s just barely in your peripheral vision. You cannot ignore it, and its tales of various girls running off with various men for uniformly uncooth reasons. I’m only sorry I can’t find a good enough version of it online – this’ll have to do:
Play this, and close your eyes. Relax. Listen to the sound of your own breathing. And turn the volume up…
I’m pretty sure that that’s what it sounds like to have an embolism on a trumpet. Part of me knows why they didn’t play it live – you need to be off your meds to be playing this one. All twelve of you.
As I was preparing this article, I wrote: “My main hope is that people are dancing the
ceildi ceilidh tonight!” [sic] I was sorry to be disappointed.** But there was no room for people to dance; madly, badly or otherwise, in the great long tradition of the ceildi ceilidh. Which was a total shame, but hardly unpredictable – who goes to a gig to dance?
I really wanted to dance, though, because Bellowhead always sound like happiness to me. Kind of like ska, actually – the BIG instrumentation, the overbearance of trumpets and the superabundance of fiddles (OK, not entirely like ska then) just make me smile. Except ska makes me think it’s the height of summer, whereas even Bellowhead’s songs about the “merry merry month of May” make me think a white and green Christmas is right round the corner.
It doesn’t hurt also that all of their songs are about drinking too much, dancing too much and cheap,*** easy love.
Oh, come on; I warned you this was going to be a positive review. I promise I’ll hate something this week. Now go out, get your hands on this album (all of their albums), drink your whiskey, shut up and be happy!
* Which apparently the original is based on, but I didn’t hear until they brought it out in their version. I suppose that makes it less of a pop song, then. All is well.