It says a lot about the impact of Faustus’ self-titled debut of 2008 that excitement about the trio’s return is so high, especially as it’s fairly easy to catch the band’s multitalented members performing in other groups (Bellowhead, Whapweasel, Seth Lakeman Band, Belshazzar’s Feast… the list goes on).
Their second CD, the wryly titled Broken Down Gentlemen, won’t disappoint the band’s fans. From the taut, confident opening title track on, it’s a hearty, expertly arranged and deftly performed album.
The trio play to their strengths, of which they have many. Vocally, Benji Kirkpatrick and Paul Sartin take on most of the lead work – so while Sartin’s lovely, plaintive tones give American Stranger an extra emotional punch, Kirkpatrick is impressive and (appropriately) rather more breezy on Blow the Windy Morning.
Kirkpatrick (guitar and bouzouki) and Saul Rose (melodeon) work well together as the band’s ‘engine room’, giving the album volume and driving rhythm. Sartin’s fiddle, oboe and cor anglais often provide the melodious icing on the cake.
Nowhere is this effect more apparent than on Banks of the Nile, which gets a big, bold arrangement: grand-sounding melodeon, tension-building guitar, exquisite fiddle and an engaging delivery from Kirkpatrick on vocals. To top it all off, there is some impressive harmony singing too.
Captain’s Apprentice seems to have been recorded a lot recently, but Faustus make it their own. Their version is almost the opposite of Jackie Oates’ calm a capella rendition on The Imagined Village’s Bending The Dark, but it works just as well. The song is given gravitas by a meaty guitar refrain, rich melodeon drone and Sartin’s warm, mournful voice.
Sartin again takes the lead on the ebullient Og’s Eye Man, which is given an accompanying melody, Ring Her Bell, written by Kirkpatrick. It’s one of many rather blokey songs on the album, alongside the salty I Wish I Wish (“how I would pluck that sweet cherry”) and the melancholy innuendo of Thrashing Machine.
The latter track is a pleasingly lighter-sounding way to end the album, with sophisticated pizzicato plucks accompanying Rose’s accomplished lead vocal. Broken down gentlemen? On the contrary – this album is firm evidence that Faustus are firing on all cylinders.
Broken Down Gentlemen is out on Navigator Records on March 11