The Famous Sandhogs are a band of minstrels with a vast amount of material. Their album Bohonky Tonk, as they describe it, is a Ukrainian rock opera, set during the Khmelnytskyi uprising in 1648.
Sounding like a combination of early Beck and the Velvet Underground, Bohonky Tonk is nothing if not unique. The noise folk album tells an ongoing story about a historical revolt in Poland in the 17th century.
The album is built like a play, and many verses come in the form of limericks. It follows a family who was torn apart by selfishness and who got caught up in more trouble than they bargained for when the Polish monarch came knocking.
In addition to a compelling story, Bohonky Tonk has a fascinating style. The low, boiling synthesizers create a rumbling underneath the already heavy drums. The string instruments are folkishly strummed at impulse. The bass provides a counter key that intrigues the listener to pay closer attention to the music, still without taking away from the lyrics.
Catchy melodies are added to the choruses, which linger in the mind of the listener, allowing them to attach the feelings invoked by the melody to the lyrics and the story. When you listen intently to the words, it is easy to become enthralled in the story and feel real empathy for the characters.
The tragic story told in Bohonky Tonk explores freedom, love and religion, all while doing so beneath the heavy trudging of the instruments. The repetitive nature of the music seems to draw the listener back into the story with firm intent.
The Famous Sandhogs’ rock opera is an awesome display of mixed media. We receive a dramatic play through such a strange medium, yet the story and the music fit together perfectly. Bohonky Tonk breaks new ground in out-of-the-box style music.
- Ryan Haughey
Published in Volume 73, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 15, 2018)