Somnambule - Writing About Music

A Hawk And A Hacksaw

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 unsympathetic geese.

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.
Colin Buttimer
June 2004
Published by Milkfactory