The crow of a cockerel succeeded promptly by the bang
of a gong heralds the arrival of Jeremy Barnes aka A
Hawk And A Hacksaw. The next minute or so of Maremaillette
is consumed by rapidly rising arpeggios played on what
sounds like an upright piano that’s spent much
of its long life in a barn. The arpeggios mutate and
are joined by bass, accordion and what might just be
biscuit tin percussion. It’s lively, noisy, messy
and impressively vital. The easy one-liner review might
be ‘Steve Reich transplanted to a farmyard in
rural France’. Too easy though and the remaining
38 minutes resolutely refuse to align easily with any
extant musical form.
The second and title song might just be the bastard
daughter of a silent film soundtrack (definitely a dastardly
thriller) and an ingrown folk melody. After a couple
of minutes what sounds like a worse-for-wear saxophonist
accompanied by muted trumpeting recalls an inebriated
but determined Penguin Café Orchestra. Romceasca
begins in a music hall, escapes and is chased by Keystone
Cops. Borne along by speedy accordion it encounters
numerous honking horns and yet more delirious piano.
Halfway through the track switches to maudlin sentiments.
Surely mourning betrayal by a heartless lover, it’s
ably accompanied by a gaggle of honking but apparently
Why the initial reference to rural France? That’s
what the liner notes declare: “Recorded by Jeremy
Barnes in Saumur France (2001-2002)”; that it
goes on to say “and with Derrick Almstead in Athens,
Georgia (November, 2001)” is a little more of
a stretch to assimilate. The following is pure supposition,
but humour your reviewer if you will. The cover divides
the CD’s thirteen pieces into two parts. The five
tracks that make up Part One sound to this
listener like a distinctly French, rural affair while
the eight tracks of Part Two appear to have
the shade of the New World about them, though again
it’s a rural, backwoods experience.
Proudly ramshackle and home-made, A Hawk And A Hacksaw
sounds initially as if it was recorded on the spur of
the moment with Jeremy Barnes impulsively inviting his
drinking companions back to play a few songs before
falling asleep and snoring loudly over their instruments.
However the result, no matter how higgledy-piggledy
an impression it makes, certainly betrays no carelessness
in its composition. What with the cockerels and the
geese, here’s to the rustic revolution. It can
only be hoped that one day shoppers will encounter a
genre in their local megastore called ‘Agrarian’.
Alongside A Hawk And A Hacksaw, such a category might
also include numerous Bluegrass artists, Arrested Development
and so on – it might be a wonderfully catholic
musical denomination in fact. A Hawk And A Hacksaw
is simultaneously out on its own and full of a wonderful
sense of place – and it carries more than a hint
of the madness of the deep night far away from the towns.