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A Hawk And A Hacksaw A Hawk And A Hacksaw And The Hun Hangar Ensemble Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

They team up with Hungarian supergroup The Hun Hangar Ensemble to produce what is...

Chris White 2007

After over a decade playing drums for U.S neo-psychedelia mavericks, Neutral Milk Hotel, followed by a frankly bizarre stint as a postman in Leicester, New Mexico native Jeremy Barnes re-emerged in 2004 with his own uniquely captivating solo project, A Hawk And A Hacksaw.

While his former group often made inventive use of brass band textures, Barnes has gone much further in developing a sound built around the exuberant folk traditions of Eastern Europe, often working closely with musicians from the region, notably Romania’s Fanfare Ciocarlia on acclaimed third album The Way The Wind Blows.

On this limited edition EP (only 4000 copies have been pressed), Barnes and violinist Heather Trost team up with Hungarian supergroup The Hun Hangar Ensemble to produce what is undoubtedly their bravest work yet.

While their earlier releases at least gave a cursory nod to conventional Western rock with a smattering of English language vocals, this eight-track set is almost exclusively rooted in the Balkans, with only two completely original compositions included among the traditional pieces.

Interestingly, it is these two tracks and the others to which Barnes and Trost contribute additional melodies which provide the standout moments. Trost’s opener ‘'Kiraly Siratas'’ features a yearningly sad violin refrain that evokes John Williams’s score to Schindler’s List, followed closely by Barnes’s accordion-led stomp through his own ‘'Zozobra'’ accompanied by the sinuous cymbalom (a stringed instrument central to Hungarian music) of the Hun Hangar’s Balazs Unger. The energy of A Hawk And A Hacksaw’s virtuoso live performances is vividly captured on ‘'Romanian Hora And Bulgar'’, which starts off as a slow waltz before suddenly hurtling off without warning towards a frenzied gipsy dance climax.

The latter stages of the EP are given over to solely traditional material, and while the playing of the Hun Hangar remains exemplary throughout, the reduced input from Barnes and Trost is immediately apparent and proceedings start to flag somewhat. Closing number ‘Dudanotek’ features Bela Agoston alone on the Hungarian bagpipes, and while his impassioned screeching may be met with great enthusiasm in the bars of Budapest (and quite possibly Glasgow), it is arguably a step too far for all bar the most adventurous ears.

These minor gripes aside, it is rare indeed for a British or American act to succeed in distilling the essence of a different musical culture as authentically and compellingly as A Hawk And A Hacksaw do. Although too resolutely esoteric to attract mainstream appeal, more records as delightful as this should ensure Barnes does not have to return to the employ of the Royal Mail any time soon.

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