In their decade of existence, 11-piece British folk ensemble Bellowhead have adorned sea chanteys, minstrel music, Napoleonic war songs, and a variety of other traditional folk tunes with their uniquely vivid old world flair, which owes as much to pop pageantry as it does to fusty Morris dance fare. Through broad, clever arrangements and passionate exuberance, they've polished reclaimed material from the past few centuries into theatrical juggernauts that blend brass, strings, accordion, and big harmonic vocal passages. From a recording standpoint, they've slowly ascended the ladder of pop production with each of their four major releases, the last of which (2012's Broadside) having been produced by rock veteran John Leckie.
Island Records have finally remembered that they were one of the great folk labels of the 1970s, and are now trying to catch up with the current revival. Signing Bellowhead was an obvious, but shrewd move, especially as they have teamed up with U2 and Coldplay arranger Rupert Christie to make their most commercial album to date. The formula remains the same, with traditional songs reworked with rousing big-band arrangements, and from furious opener Let Her Run to the rock-influenced Greenwood Side, they sound slicker and more confident than ever.
"Revival" feels like an understatement; the fifth album by purist-riling folk troupe Bellowhead doesn't so much coax these traditional songs back to life as apply repeated surges of energy to shock them from the grave. Syncopated stabs of brass, helter-skelter fiddles and call-and-response vocals jostle for space in these ebullient arrangements. Subtlety is, of course, the first casualty in the stampede for the folk mosh pit, and singer Jon Boden sometimes strains too hard for drama, lapsing into hamminess on murder ballad Greenwood Side.