Following on from 2007’s mini LP recorded with the Hun Hangár Ensemble, A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s latest album Délivrance was part recorded in Budapest with some of the same musicians backing the core duo of Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost.
Hungary’s cultural history is distinct from the rest of Europe’s. The original Magyar people came from Central Asia, and the Hungarian language is totally distinct from that of any of its European neighbours. Sandwiched between the German-speaking nations to the west and the Slavs to the east, its political history has seen the country bounced from east to west – in the twentieth century alone it went from part of the Austro-Hungarian empire to part of the Soviet bloc and then back to the European Union. The country’s traditional music similarly shares elements with its neighbours, but stands alone.
Délivrance is more than just an exploration into Hungarian folk. It blends in other influences to leave something that sounds both ancient and modern. Although it’s not all high tempo and upbeat, there is a sense of joy that is palpable. This music is meant to be fun, first and foremost.
Eight of the ten tracks are instrumentals which is a good thing as Jeremy Barnes slightly drunken, downbeat vocals are an acquired taste. Some hurtle by breathlessly, others are more sombre. Pick of the bunch include “Foni Tu Argile” which opens the album sounding like it’s been recorded through a wall before bursting into a brass- led dance that has the feel of a Mariachi band. Indeed, this could be Calexico playing with Muzsikás. “Raggle Taggle” is also outstanding. The first half of the track is bathed in distortion as Heather Trost comes over all Warren Ellis, but then it suddenly opens up into a bright dance. “Lassú” ends the album with an air of sentimentality. It has the feel of a farewell. A traditional tune, it has much in common with some of the mournful Celtic airs of the nineteenth century, and could be inspired by the same thing – large numbers of kinsfolk heading across the Atlantic for a new life, and the pain of parting.
There are moments when the album loses its way a little, and the music seems a little aimless, but for the most part this is a hugely enjoyable record. This kind of music, though, should be a communal experience, and really comes into its own in a live setting.
1 Foni Tu Argile 3:54
2 Kertész 4:45
3 The Man Who Sold His Beard 5:36
4 Hummingbirds 2:29
5 Raggle Taggle 4:52
6 I Am Not a Gambling Man 2:38
7 Turkiye 5:07
8 Zibiciu 2:18
9 Vasalisa Carries a Flaming Skull Through the Forest 3:59
10 Lassú 2:01