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Announcing an indefinite hiatus towards the end of 2011, just three years after their formation, there was a degree of uncertainty as to whether The Bad Shepherds would return to action or forevermore be consigned to the annals of music history as an ephemeral venture whose fleeting existence never saw them hit their full potential. Constituted by a trio of talented musicians, the best known of these, Ade Edmondson, seemed to indulge himself in a variety of TV presenting work, notably a second series of the perennially interesting 'Ade in Britain', as well as touring with The Idiot Bastard Band at the tail-end of 2012 alongside Phill Jupitus, Rowland Rivron and Neil Innes. Uillean pipes virtuoso Troy Donockley fulfilled global touring commitments with Finnish symphonic metallers Nightwish, while fiddler Andy Dinan was, I guess, fiddling somewhere else. And with a new series of the much-loved, classic sitcom 'Bottom' in the works, reuniting him with onetime comedy comrade Rik Mayall, it looked like 2013 would provide Ade with little or no time to resurrect The Bad Shepherds. Wrong. It seems he had a moment of epiphanic folk desire and opted to abandon 'Bottom' in favour of returning to his Shepherds brethren. Thus when The Idiot Bastards finished touring in December, a surprise announcement was made concerning The Bad Shepherds' return to the live stage for a lengthy UK tour at the end of 2013. And with another announcement early this year that they'd also be releasing a third album, fans of this most unique of acts had reason to rejoice. And rejoice they most certainly will when they hear this sonically scintillating record as Ade & co. have honed their craft to deliver what is, indubitably, their best work to date.

Already renowned for their arsenal of innovatively reimagined folked-up takes on 70s/80s punk, ska and new wave classics, 'Mud, Blood & Beer' is no exception although this latest release also sees the trio offer up two original compositions - the album's title track which is an emotionally-charged lyrical ode to Ade's profound adoration of the summer music festival and a similarly themed instrumental, 'Off to the Beer Tent'. With the album cover depicting a vibrant festival scene and the title encapsulating the essence of a good festival, this is Ade wearing his heart on his sleeve with the The Bad Shepherds' third outing. His unmitigated love of festivals, and the band in general, is unequivocally reflected in the lyrics: "The gateman lets us in, then the fun begins, we're in heaven... it's the reason we're still here: the mud, the blood, the beer." Nature, comradeship and ale... the perfect combination for many. The man's innate passion also shines through in the music - both in the rearrangements and the original numbers. And while the rearrangements of established songs are about relocating other people's compositions within the folk genre and its associated idioms, the two new numbers have been composed, rather than transformed, as folk pieces so The Bad Shepherds have proven themselves as adept writers of original quality folk music. And these songs are primed perfectly for the stage - I predict 'Mud, Blood & Beer' will engender mass sing-alongs during live shows with its catchy-as-fuck refrain and 'Off to the Beer Tent' should incite (beer-fuelled) gig punters into full-on jig pit action.

So what have they rearranged (and deranged) this time around? Well, there are a few surprise inclusions which make this the most diverse album out of the three. Fun Boy Three's 'The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum' receives The Bad Shepherds treatment in what is a rather melancholically sublime take on the song and, with no disrespect intended to Terry Hall & co., they've manage to better the original. The oft-covered 'Shipbuilding', penned by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer, and originally recorded by Robert Wyatt, provides an equally sublime and musically haunting moment on the album but spiced with an impassioned vocal delivery that's apt for the lyrical content. Madness' 'Our House', apart from vocal melodies, is refreshingly unrecognisable which sees pop-ska transformed affectively into folk-jig after an acoustic-punk styled intro. Ian Dury and the Blockheads' 'What a Waste' is also a surprise addition to the tracklist although, as with every other rearrangement on the album, they've made it work beautifully in its transformed folk guise. The ingenuity of what The Bad Shepherds are doing should in no small way be taken for granted. That is to say, there's such a natural flow to each of the tracks that it would be easy to overlook just how clever they've been in reinventing them. And therein lies the true genius of their craft - the fact that songs do have a natural flow so it's easy to become lost in the music rather than focussing on how skilful the rearrangements are. And such is the ingenuity of their reinvention and reimagining that they've succeeded in breathing fresh life into the classic tunes they've tackled. This is undeniable whether you're familiar with the originals or not as I'm sure many of the band's younger fans will be hearing some of these songs for the first time. Either way, it's incredible how socially and politically relevant each of the rearranged songs are in their lyrical content over thirty years after they were first written so each of the tunes are ripe for rediscovery today.

Recorded in Lincolnshire's famous Chapel Studios, the album also sounds rather magnificent. Produced by Ade and Troy under guidance from the studio's engineer, Euan Davies (who's also responsible for the quite wonderful, well-balanced mix), and mastered by Denis Blackham, they've managed to achieve a rich resonance and authentic warmth to the folk instruments with all the inherent emotion and passion in Ade's vocals also captured to perfection. Sound is always an inescapably subjective entity but, to my ears, the general production, mix and mastering is flawless. As such, The Bad Shepherd's captivating folk aesthetic flourishes on 'Mud, Blood & Beer'. Chock-full of music that lifts the spirits, provokes and stirs the emotions, excites and inspires, this is a sincere album loaded with affective depths. The Bad Shepherds have created a record that is timeless (such is the inherence of well-crafted folk), relevant and, most importantly, a fucking great listen.
Monsoon Music
Review by Mark Holmes
19th August 2013
1) Our House
2) No More Heroes
3) The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum
4) Going Underground
5) What a Waste
6) Gary Gilmore's Eyes
7) Shipbuilding
8) Road to Nowhere
9) Mud, Blood & Beer
10) Off to the Beer Tent
"The Bad Shepherds have created a record that is timeless (such is the inherence of well-crafted folk), relevant and, most importantly, a fucking great listen."