The second album by trad folk trio Faustus, Broken Down Gentlemen, breathes new life into a raft of well known and not so well known songs with arresting vocals and varied but precise arrangements. Faustus, and their precursor Dr Faustus, have often been a ‘now you see them now you don’t’ kind of band; it’s pushing 5 years since their previous album. It doesn’t take a Holmes to figure out why when you list the commitments of the band members. Both Paul Sartin and Benji Kirkpatrick are kept busy with the rise and rise of Bellowhead, whilst Paul also duets with Paul Hutchinson in Belshazzar’s Feast. As well as a solo career, Benji regularly teams up with Seth Lakeman whilst Saul Rose has added melodeon to any number of line ups, including Waterson:Carthy and Jim Moray, as well as taking a year long stint as Songman in the London production of War Horse. Having been captivated by the power of this new album, I can only hope Faustus don’t wait another 5 years to produce the next.
I wasn’t aware that bands had mission statements but Faustus’ self-declared mission is to “banish all that is anodyne and fey in the delivery of folk music.” I see the humorous hand of Mr Sartin in this, he’s an educated chap don’t you know. So, having consulted the dictionary, let’s see how the songs on Broken Down Gentlemen measure up.
All 10 tracks are traditional English songs, unlike their previous album there aren’t any tune sets, and generally they’ve chosen songs that rejoice in the style of lyric that had the original collectors reaching for the censor’s pencil, ‘earthy’ is the word they’ve chosen to describe them. There’s gory murder, abundant sexual innuendo, and so, with the modern meaning of anodyne as uncontentious or inoffensive, the lyrics clearly get the mission off to a good start. The increased focus on songs reflects a growing confidence in the band’s voice, separately as all 3 members take turns with the lead, and collectively with precise, well-crafted 2 and 3 part harmonies. The distinctive high range of Paul Sartin’s voice is particularly effective on The Captain’s Apprentice. There’s no hiding his classical chorister background but never a hint of the coldness and lack of engagement with the story that singers with trained voices so often display when tackling folk song.
The choice of entirely vocal material certainly doesn’t imply any reduction in the attention paid to their instrumental arrangements and a couple of the songs are accompanied by melodies penned by Paul and Benji. The range of instruments they can deploy ensures a depth and variety that they use to great effect. Benji Kirkpatrick provides the rhythmic spine with his bouzouki and guitar, at times making good use of the driving rhythms produced by pounding out the chords with relaxed left-hand fingers, very effective on Og’s Eye Man, the song merging with his tune, Ring My Bell. When needed, the rhythm section is reinforced by Saul Rose’s melodeon which can also join Paul Sartin’s fiddle, oboe and cor anglais to emphasise and harmonise the melodies. This mix of the usual and the unexpected in terms of ‘folk’ instruments gives a pleasing freshness and vitality to the sound.
Broken Down Gentlemen has been well worth waiting for and, together with an album launch tour starting in April, should ensure that Faustus continue to build an enthusiastic following. And what of their goal to banish all that is fey? Well, to be sure, there’s no mention of fairies but equally there’s no shortage of magic.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
For Gig dates and more visit: www.faustusband.com