The journey of A Hawk and a Hacksaw--Jeremy Barnes (vocals, accordion, drums) and partner Heather Trost (violin)--embraces the sounds of myriad places and people. From the midlands of England and France to the Czech Republic, Romania, and Hungary via the pair's hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, this evolving musical story continues to enthrall. Delivrance forges deeper into the culture of the old East and comes back with a suite of euphoric melodies for times of revelry.Recorded in Budapest during mid-2008 around the core of the Hun Hangar Ensemble (a group of extraordinarily talented Hungarian folk musicians), Delivrance proves that months of submersion in the local culture and making music the focus of daily life has seeped right through Barnes and Trost's songwriting and playing. This is by far their most vivid, intense, and confident work to date. A mix of traditional songs and original compositions appear on the album. Opener Foni Tu Argile is from Greece, traditionally played on bouzouki with vocals. Collaborator Chris Hladowski (Scatter, Nalle) helps transform into a righteous instrumental stomp with an incredibly seductive, heavily percussive melody that is rich with color and almost seems laden with spice and incense. "Kertesz" sets off a frenzied accordion, racing against the flashing bow of the violin and distinctive sound of the cimbalom, a dulcimer-like instrument played with sticks.Raggle Taggle touches on a plangent note of sorrow before the violins caper off into a heady dance--an example of typical Hungarian style, but with new melodies. Turkiye urges another breathless dancing spree; this time the trumpet blares atop a swath of melodies from Turkey, Serbia, and Bosnia alongside some brand new ones. The evocatively titled "Vasalisa Carries a Flaming Skull Through the Forest" has the aspect of a funereal march, with the clarinet in the spotlight.Barnes and Trost's new band began touring mid-March 2009, kicked things off with a SXSW appearance, followed by North American shows with Andrew Bird and Wilco. There will be plenty festival appearances this summer.
The story of A Hawk and a Hacksaw is as captivating and multifarious as the duo's growing body of work. Having started out as the solo project of former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Barnes, AHAAH's extraordinarily beautiful self-titled debut album was recorded in the French countryside and released in 2002. Later travels in the Czech Republic inspired another recording before Barnes returned to his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he met his paramour and collaborator, the highly talented violinist Heather Trost. A likeminded passion for music and adventure led the couple to spend extended periods of time in Hungry and Romania as they forged deep bonds with local musicians, capturing the magic of their interaction on an EP, 2007's A Hawk and A Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble.
A Hawk and a Hacksaw's music has always been heavily inspired by the folk traditions of Eastern Europe, and their determination to integrate themselves into that region's culture and contemporary music scene has enabled them to continuously create absorbing and exciting songs. Since the duo are actively learning about the music they love from the artists who know it best, AHAAH's compositions always sound like they're moving forward and flourishing-- whereas a less musically courageous group could end up being a one trick pony. Their fourth album, Délivrance, is centered around Barnes' masterful tackling of percussion and accordion, Trost on violin, and a gaggle of Hungarian specialists such as the trumpeter Ferenc Kovács and one of the world's foremost cimbalom virtuosos, Kálmán Balogh, who bring their animated musical personalities into the frame.
On past albums, AHAAH's klezmer and folk motifs have been anchored by a certain sorrow that was evident amid the exuberance, enticing the listener to experience a varied emotional flow. Délivrance is no less potent for being as effervescently high-spirited as it is. Even the lackadaisical drama of "Vasalisa Carries a Flaming Skull Through the Forest" feels drunkenly merry, like a casual, winding stroll through the trees after a night carousing on the cobblestones. If AHAAH were to have a "party" album, this would be it. Tracks such as "The Man Who Sold His Beard" and "Zibiciu" are foot-stomping reveries that sound as though they were composed in a smoky, crowded café on the banks of the Danube. So it's not surprising to hear that the band often kick started their improvisations with a shot of pálinka, a type of Hungarian fruit brandy.
As the group continues to draw inspiration from their travels and friends, they challenge themselves with baffling rhythmic tricks and collaborative ideas that fuse traditional melodies with their own distinguishing attributes. The gloriously sprightly energy of Délivrance is so ebullient and full of character that by the time it's over you feel like you've caught a glimpse of the type of joyful festivity that always feels most rewarding after a long journey.
— Mia Clarke, May 13, 2009