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Belshazzar’s Feast Find the Lady Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Confidently establishes its own niche instead of falling between the cracks of others.

Colin Irwin 2010

A glance at the sleeve acknowledgements may alert you to the incorrigible Belshazzar’s Feast mindset with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, The Queen, Wayne Sleep, Long John Silver and Zebedee (all make cameo appearances on Primus Hornpipe) among those thanked.

Yet despite their comedic/jolly japes inclinations, the duo of Paul Hutchinson (accordion) and Paul Sartin (violin, oboe) are both serious and highly adept musicians who deliver wry, leftfield and often challenging arrangements of a colourful array of dance tunes with verve, panache and considerable thought. Together they provide a rustic vision of Englishness constructed from old country dance collections with the occasional gravitas afforded by part-classical music backgrounds… with lots of curved balls pitched into what at heart essentially remains a fun album.

This mix of the highbrow with gambolling nonchalance is initially confusing. But from the refreshingly unfamiliar version of Wild Rover through to the studied epic Home Lad, Home, closing the album on a starkly funereal note, they strike the sort of balance that’s been missing from some of their previous efforts.

While his no-frills singing may be something of an acquired taste (you imagine this is how Billy Bragg sounds at 78rpm), Sartin revels in the sort of explorative freedom that by definition is not afforded by either of his other, rather bigger bands: Bellowhead or Faustus. His sensitive performances of the gorgeous Queen of the May and Turtle Dove, a song of 1907 collected from one of his ancestors Edith Sartin, are formidable indeed. Their meandering arrangements, which range from a 17th century Playford tune to the slightly mystical Hutchinson original Circle of Biscuits, create an evocative landscape that blends ancient dance forms with spritely technical nuance and good old-fashioned joie de vivre that blossoms fully on Hutchinson’s mazurka Royal Flush before segueing triumphantly into Elephant Stairs.

With additional accompaniments from Jackie Oates (violin, vocals), Pete Flood (percussion) and his own guitar, producer Jim Moray gives them a sharpness and coherency that confidently establishes its own niche instead of falling between the cracks of others.

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