Brass Monkey - Flame of Fire
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Brass Monkey
Flame of Fire
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cd cover Brass Monkey appear to be making up for lost time. The legendary folk outfit featuring Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, Howard Evans, Roger Williams, and Martin Brinsford released two classic albums in the 1980s. The initial recordings, Brass Monkey and See How It Runs, were true stunners, born of Carthy and Kirkpatrick's work with the Albion Band and Steeleye Span, as well as their meeting musicians involved with the National Theatre production of "Lark Rise to Candleford." Right out of the gate, Brass Monkey keyed into a pairing of English folk song and dance with a tight brass section. The distinctive sound of the group lasted until 1987, when Brass Monkey disbanded, only to regroup again in the late 1990s. Flame of Fire marks their third new release on Topic since 1998.

Brass Monkey's sound is immediately recognizable, and their flair for arrangements is such that you can expect nothing less than a top recording from the band. However, there comes a time when what was once groundbreaking becomes too familiar. As much as I love Brass Monkey, I'm finding it difficult to actually distinguish their albums anymore. Given the terrific instrumentation that the gents have at hand, I'd love to see them stretch themselves more and let the brass section wail with some go-for-broke experimentation. So what new demands does Brass Monkey make on the listener with Flame of Fire?

Just a few. On the title track, Brinsford's cymbal flourishes nicely accentuate Carthy's vocals when he mentions the 'flame of fire.' The band also incorporates a tune from an African-American fiddle player on "Bill Driver's Quickstep," an exception on an album whose source material is predominantly English. But my favorite moment has to be on the set "The Queen's Birthday/New Whitehall/Dick's Maggot," where the band just drops out to some clunking percussion and Howard Evans' trumpet gives way to Roger Williams' tuba an effective and unexpected transition.

Taken as a whole, Flame of Fire is very good, indeed. It is clear that these musicians absolutely love working in this band, and you can just tell that Martin Carthy is having one hell of time singing here. I hesitate to call Brass Monkey folk-rock anymore, because they simply occupy their own unique sonic space in the folk world that reminds me more of classical music than the gut dynamics of rock. Brass Monkey delivers, as usual, but wouldn't it be something if the next album shook up the orthodoxy? - Lee Blackstone

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