Faustus – Broken Down Gentlemen
The bold mission statement accompanying this album declares that Faustus – a trio involving melodeon kingpin Saul Rose and two Bellowheads, Paul Sartin and Benji Kirkpatrick – are driven by a desire to “banish all that is anodyne and fey in the delivery of folk music”.
And let’s drink to that. As, while the surge of younger musicians playing prominent roles in the increasing popularity of English folk are largely to be applauded, the ‘nu folk’ strand in particular has been a worrying catalyst for dainty whimsy and nauseating tweeness.
Around in various incarnations since 2006, Faustus indeed offer a studied antidote to this trend with producer Stu Hanna (of Megson) masterminding a beautifully clear tonal quality that elicits the very best from their shrewd mix of technical expertise and gut power.
They make a big sound for a trio, but are never bombastic. Rose’s uncompromising melodeon playing and Kirkpatrick’s driving bouzouki and rhythm guitar are invariably in full, impressive turbo charge whenever they crank up the pace (as on The Prentice Boy and the delicious title track).
Yet there’s plenty of tenderness, too, especially when Sartin takes lead vocals on mournful tracks like American Stranger and The Captain’s Apprentice.
The breadth of instruments at their disposal – also incorporating Sartin’s fiddle, cor anglais and oboe – encourages a wide variety of moods and styles that keep the album vibrant, as does having three very different lead vocalists, even if the dreaded 1970s folk warble occasionally creeps into Rose’s singing.
If it’s a knees-up album, then it’s one full of subtlety and thoughtfulness. Established crowd-pleasing shanty Og’s Eye Man is given a controlled but nevertheless intense arrangement, and irrepressibly saucy closer The Thrashing Machine delivers its innuendo with a cheery wink rather than a full-blooded leer.
In essence, it’s a good old-fashioned album of hearty traditional songs given the sort of sophisticated sound quality and sonic strength that wasn’t available back in the early days of the folk revival, when these songs mostly gained popular currency. It’s a breath of air… and, mostly, that air is crystalline fresh.