Blowzabella, Blowzabella Wall of Sound (Osmosys, 1997)

Blowzabella, the quintessential "wall of sound" hurdy-gurdy-and-bagpipes group (not to mention vocals, melodeons, saxes, citterns and more instruments than one can imagine) was founded by a group of students studying instrument-making at the London College of Furniture. Named after a rather lively prostitute (see the Bobbityshooty review for details), this group formed with the intent of making traditional dance music based on the use of melody-accompanied drones.

Their first release was the aptly named Blowzabella Wall of Sound album. It is a spirited collection of mostly traditional dance tunes given that unique Blowzabella treatment. And it is truly Blowzabella at what was their very best: loud, fast, and tastefully chaotic.

Blowzabella uses a drone base to underscore their unique sound. Only the contemporary bands Prego and the bands Calic and Calicanto from Italy come close to Blowzabella in creating a drone-based "wall of sound" music that reverbs through both the consciousness and the bones of the listener. Jo Morrison in her MusicHound Folk biography of this group noted that Blowzabella is "[a] far cry from the typical folk music produced in England, Blowzabella's distinctive sound is carried on the base of a drone. Using bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy to establish this core, the group explores the driving and almost primitive sound to its fullest through the interweaving of dance melodies over the drones. The result is hypnotic, and extremely unusual. Sounding almost as much middle-eastern as English, the group pulls on a variety of traditional roots for the basis of their music, including Eastern European, English, and Irish influences."

The present CD is an Osmosys re-issue of the Plant Life LP which has been made sadly poignant by the unexpected death of Blowzabella melodeon player Dave Roberts, who has been quoted as saying Wall of Sound was his favorite album.

The one very untraditional song on the album is a cover of a song made famous by the Violent Femmes: "Hallowed Ground." This rather dark song sounds like the title track for an urban fantasy that one would love to read -- but not be part of -- such as Emma Bulls Bone Dance! Another favorite track for me was the "Eight Step Waltz," a tune also covered by Iron Horse, the seminal Scottish rock 'n' reel group.

This is an excellent opportunity to get one of the best "not so trad" albums ever made. With one step in the past and one step also firmly in the future, Blowzabella's Wall of Sound belongs in any serious folk collection.

[Jack B. Merry]