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Private Label BTP004

Capitalising on BTP’s recent conquest of the Cropredy Convention crowd, the band’s third full-length album finds York’s folk-rock reprobates ever more gleefully rebellious as they take their exciting, ballsy take on the genre to ever more extreme heights of partying, though with an underlying seriousness of purpose that the purists may find a touch surprising. Like the band’s stage act, Reprobates roughly alternates between gutsy songs and swashbuckling instrumentals, but almost always full-on in attack; some may occasionally find this trait almost too relentless for home listening, but comfort may easily and sensibly be sacrificed for the anarchic joy and welcome challenge of the experience, which is literally unforgettable and exceedingly invigorating.

The band’s imaginative arrangements are carried aloft on a high level of musicianship and a barnstorming momentum that takes ready cues from primal dance, classic heavy rock, folk’n’roll and funk. The disc’s instrumentals, while clearly emanating from an approved folk-rock heritage, are also commendably distanced from mere routine: for instance, Laura Boston-Barber’s demonic fiddle leads inexorably to the Hangman’s Noose, while Tim Yates’ dark, lithe, satanic bass lines usher in the stomping rhythms of The Devil’s Doorbell. Among the narratives, indelibly inhabited by Stuart Giddens’ showmanlike vocal lead, The Ballad Of William Kidd is rather akin to a heavy cousin of Steeleye, while industrial-strength Sabbath-style grinding riffs from Martin Coumbe’s solid-state electric guitar propel The Slave Chase and never let go of your brain (not even on the track’s fade). A standout insistent, pounding account of Alex Glasgow’s Close The Coalhouse Door broods tellingly and makes a magnificent album closer. Earlier, the lustily animated reworking of Peter Bellamy’s shanty, Roll Down, might be seen as a device to get the crew onto the dance-floor, but it’s still mightily infectious. Only the band’s straightforward treatment of Diggers anthem Stand Up Now seems a tad workmanlike in comparison, and points to the band’s Achilles Heel, a certain reluctance to shift the levels down to below 11; against this, the quirky, almost relaxed rhythmic jerks of Loose Shoulder initially come as something of a relief. The tremendous energy of the manically busy BTP percussion section (Dave Boston and Liam “Yom” Hardy) is a force to be reckoned with, and yet highly disciplined – perhaps best demonstrated on Star Of Munster, where Laura’s whirling-dervish fiddle comes into its own and Tim even gets a mildly mischievous bass solo along the way.

Having said all that, there’s a fantastic sense of presence in the recording, and producer Dave Boothroyd has pulled back on overt studio effects in favour of a punchier, more immediate sound; the only downside is that in striving to achieve the most favourable ensemble balance, Stuart’s ebullient melodeon playing seems quite often to have gone AWOL in the mix. But no mistake, these Reprobates go from strength to strength, and here they’re as irresistible as ever.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 112 of The Living Tradition magazine.