Brass Monkey - Head of Steam
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Brass Monkey
Head of Steam
Topic (www.topicrecords.co.uk)

When Brass Monkey formed in the early 1980s, their sound was revelatory: huge brass arrangements, accompanied by John Kirkpatrick's accordion (and sometimes vocals) and Martin Carthy's guitar and vocals. One could point back to other brass arrangements of English folksong, particularly the 'classical' "Lincolnshire Posy" of Percy Grainger, but Brass Monkey also injected a bit of folk-rock to their interpretations that made the group utterly unique. New albums took their time to gestate, but the formula never altered; over time, even the shock of Brass Monkey's early work became accepted and even 'timeless' in its own time. The new Brass Monkey, Head of Steam, arrives minus the considerable gifts of trumpeter Howard Evans, who passed away in 2006. The camaraderie is still there, and as a tribute to Evans, this is another instance of Brass Monkey delivering the quality goods.

The whole of Head of Steam is pleasingly familiar: schottisches, polkas, hornpipes, morris music, and some lengthy ballad telling all abound. Albion Band lovers will rejoice to hear "The Radstock Jig" rear its head in the set of "Litchfield Tattoo/The Radstock Jig/The Quickstep from 'The Battle of Prague.'" Thanks to the estimable horn section of Misters Paul Archibald, Martin Brinsford, and Roger Williams, Brass Monkey continue to remind me of military music. In fact, military influences thread through Head of Steam. Martin Carthy sings "The Press Gang"; there is the aforementioned tattoo and quickstep; and the album concludes with "Nelson, The Fallen Hero/The Death of Nelson," again with Carthy at the helm. Perhaps concluding the album with this lament allowed Brass Monkey to remind listeners of the absent Evans. In any case, Martin Carthy's voice is certainly showing its age; sometimes his voice trails off, unable to sustain or hold notes. I do not find this sad, but an assertion of humanity that calls to mind the musical folk tradition itself: the songs carry on, even as our own bags of bones become more fragile. Brass Monkey's swagger may be more tempered nowadays, but their dignity is legend. - Lee Blackstone

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