Former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer/percussionist Jeremy Barnes and his partner violinist/violist Heather Trost are true travelers, nomads. The duo, the core members of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, have carved out a circular route from their point of origin, Albuquerque, N.M., to Devon, England, and on to Budapest, Hungary.
Yet this doesn't seem to really be out-of-the-ordinary for Barnes, who was part of a unique musical collective based just outside of Athens, Georgia, that evolved into The Elephant 6 Recording Company. A number of bands bloomed from this "collective," including Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, Elf Power, Essex Green and Olivia Tremor Control. Barnes, who displayed his powerful talent on drums with Neutral Milk Hotel, branched out further musically than many of his old colleagues.
Barnes and Trost have ventured into a different era. It's as if they've peeled back a thin veiled curtain to reveal their world of old folk and traveler music, much of it derived from Balkan, Middle Eastern, Slavic and Celtic influences, blending it with U.S. counterparts, mainly from Mariachi and New Orleans Dixieland traditions. A Hawk and A Hacksaw's new release, Délivrance, illuminates this atmosphere of a turn-of-last-century carnival, one of mystique, surrealism and wonder.
The first cut, "Font tu Argile," starts with a gauzy basement-style introduction, soon giving way to a full sound, marked with the striking of a cimbalom (a stringed instrument struck, like a piano, by small, padded mallets, creating high, tinny ringed notes). The "band," more like a crazed orchestra, strikes up with a cross between a dance and a march, with Barnes and his frenetic accordion riffs leading the way.
Heather Trost, who wrote or co-wrote on nearly the entire release, contributes various string parts on violin, viola and the antiquated stroh violin (a violin with a metallic narrow bell cone attached) that accompany the songs so succinctly, you may not notice her adeptness in a variety of musical styles, from klezmer to Chinese Opera (as exemplified in a beautiful rendition of "Lassú"). "Hummingbird," written by Barnes, showcases Trost's musicianship and craft; the song successfully translates the beating of a hummingbird's wings.
Barnes and Trost have assembled a brilliant ensemble, including Farenc Kovács (trumpet and violin), instrumentalist Béla Ágostan and cimbalom player Bálazs Unger from Budapest's Hun Hangár Ensemble, early AHAAH member Mark Weaver, and new additions, namely cimbalom player Kálmán Balogh, featured on "Kertész" and in a furious solo on "Hummingbirds." Since the 2004 debut release of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, initially a Barnes solo project, the arc and transformation of this band, as evidenced on each successive recording, has grown, metaphorically and physically. Délivrance is a document of this emerging collective, who evoke sounds that are contemporary, unique and old world/traditional simultaneously.