A HAWK AND A HACKSAW – Délivrance (2009)

A Hawk and a Hacksaw - Délivrance Given that Neutral Milk Hotel’s musical imagery possessed an extraordinary reverence for the dawn of the 20th century, it’s more than fitting that the folk music A Hawk and a Hacksaw (an ensemble founded by former NHM percussionist Jeremy Barnes) play isn’t American in origin (though the band certainly are). No, A Hawk and a Hacksaw are “old world” in the strictest sense; unlike associates Beirut (who sometimes ride their Eastern folk down a slope of Western pop), they shun the modern musical world as if it didn’t exist.

While it might sound as though I’m describing a niche genre here, Eastern folk has started to penetrate the modern musical scene in some form or another for quite some time now. Gypsy punks Gogol Bordello have shared the stage with Madonna and Devotchka were nominated for a Grammy for their work on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, and that’s just from the past few years. But on Délivrance, their fifth album, A Hawk and a Hacksaw continue down the traditionalist path they’ve been forging for some time now, but it’s getting more and more difficult to follow them with each release. The Way The Wind Blows was an exquisite album, and their collaboration with The Hun Hangár Ensemble was as well, but Délivrance is fair, at its best, and a test of patience at it’s worst. This is due primarily to the fact the album rarely dips below 180 bpm, and while the musicianship and musical attention to detail here is stunning, it too often becomes a blur.

While it’s easy to admire the band for holding fast to the musical traditions of a region they don’t even inhabit (the band’s music is primarily Balkan in origin), it’s also difficult to praise them for it; Délivrance doesn’t feel like a folk album so much as a prolonged musical exorcism, a tarantella on a massive scale. I’m reminded of the end of Snow White (the German fairy tale, not the Disney bastardization): “and she danced and danced, until she fell down dead.”

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