album reviews

A Hawk & a Hacksaw
the Leaf Label (2011)

Kindred spirits: DeVotchKa, Gogol Bordello, Neutral Milk Hotel.

It's not a linear path from indie-rock darlings Neutral Milk Hotel to Balkan music, but former NMH drummer Jeremy Barnes has made the jump with his current project, A Hawk and a Hacksaw. The group's fifth album, "Cervantine," shows Barnes and his bandmate Heather Trost fully immersed in Eastern European folk influences.

The recording features more than just the band's two core members. In addition to Barnes's accordion and Trost's violin, "Cervantine" includes tuba, bouzouki and trumpet. The accelerating "Espanola Kolo" showcases the interplay between accordion and brass beautifully. The song is one of the album's most up-tempo numbers, but even the speediest parts have an air of calmness, never sounding too wild or chaotic.

Much of the album is instrumental, but guest vocalist Stephanie Hladowski sings on "Mana Thelo Enan Andra" and the sultry "Uskudar." The addition of vocals does give diversity to the group's sound, but the album's most memorable moments are instrumental. The opening number, "No Rest for the Wicked," starts things off with a sizzle, building and melding one catchy riff into an alluring eight-minute track. There are hints of Mexican folk sounds throughout the album, leaving the intriguing question of where Barnes will take his myriad influences next.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 30 September 2011
.: Cervantine on